Physicians and engineers at the University of Washington will begin a study of an implantable vestibular prosthesis in 10 patients today by surgically inserting the first one into a patient with persistent Ménière’s disease. Ménière’s disease sufferers are afflicted with severe bouts of dizziness and nausea caused by a pathology of the inner ear. In some cases this is due to a potassium leak in the inner ear, and in this trial the device works by sending electrical signals to the same region to try and overcome the potassium-induced effects.
From IEEE Spectrum:
The prosthesis resembles a cochlear implant, which is designed to help deaf people hear. But while a cochlear implant uses one electrode array to stimulate the auditory nerve, this prosthesis will rely on three shorter arrays to stimulate the vestibular nerve, which is crucial for balance.
Two and a half millimeters long and 150 micrometers in diameter, each array will go into one of the inner ear’s three perpendicular semicircular canals.
The implant works somewhat like a pacemaker, except it is manually triggered by the patients when they feel an attack coming on, rather than responding to some physiological signal.
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University of Washington: Project team page…