Surgical Procedures

A patient fitting a device on his ear after a cochlear implantation.

New Method for Cochlear Implantation Developed

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A patient fitting a device on his ear after a cochlear implantation.

Scientists take a step into the future of cochlear implantation.

Sometimes, hearing loss occurs because of damage to the tiny hair cells within the inner ear. Using a cochlear implant device allows deaf patients to bypass the effects of inner ear damage, giving them the ability to hear some form of sound. A cochlear implantation requires drilling a hole behind the ear, through the skull bone, and to the inner ear. Researchers may have found another way to perform this procedure.

Using Robotics for Cochlear Implantation

During a cochlear implantation, the hole is drilled to allow the device access to the inner ear. To improve the drilling procedure, scientists at the University of Bern turned to robotics. They developed a high-precision surgical robot to create the entryway for the cochlear device. Their hope is that it provides better hearing outcomes.

The surgical robot would make the hole about 2.5mm in diameter. In order to perform a task of such magnitude, the robot has the do the surgery by itself and without any hands-on interaction or visual from a surgeon. This obviously presents concerns. Surgeons need to be able to track the drill’s progress to make sure in is on track and just in case there is an error.

The researchers built the robot with interlocking safety components. This allows the drill to avoid damaging key areas like the nerves and inner ears.

Prof Weber of the University of Bern, explains: “The robot relies on a number of sensors which are a high-accuracy, optical tracking system, a sensor for resistance that can “feel” the texture of the bone while drilling, and a radar-like nerve stimulation probe that sends small electric pulses into the bone from which the robot can compute whether or not it is on the preplanned track.”

This may be the next major development in cochlear implantation. It has proven effective for one patient and hopefully, it will prove helpful for future patients.

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