New Scientist subscribers can read all about an implantable microchip that could bypass our own [inferior] vestibular nervous signals and help patients with certain types of balance disorders. The rest of us non-subscribers can just oohhh and ahhhh from a distance.
AN IMPLANTABLE chip could eventually restore a sense of balance to people who have lost theirs through accident or illness.
To balance, we rely on input from our vestibular system; a set of fluid-filled canals in the inner ear. When we move, tiny hairs pick up disturbances in the fluid, and nerves attached to the canals transmit signals to the brain, which passes the information on to muscles controlling our eyes and posture. But the system can be damaged by impacts, a loud blast, age or infection, leading to dizziness and even an inability to walk.
Researchers have previously restored balance in animals with blocked vestibular systems using a prosthesis that transmits an electrical signal to the vestibular nerve whenever gyroscopes detect rotation of the head. However, the smallest micro-gyroscopes are over 1 centimetre long, so the whole system is too big to be implanted.
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