A few months ago, I wrote an article that introduced a type of headphones that delivered sound in a non-traditional manner—bone conduction. At that time, it seemed little more than a curiosity. Albeit, a curiosity that allows us to listen to music underwater. But now I know bone conduction is much more revolutionary than that. Scientists have developed a device that, through bone conduction, may prove to cure an affliction that plagues people across the world—deafness.
This hearing implant effectively replaces the middle ear, and can provide functionally deaf patients with normal hearing. The implant developed at Chalmers University of Technology has been approved for a clinical study, and the first operation to implant the device occurred on 5 December 2012. It went according to plan.The technique of bone conduction was designed as a means of treating mechanical hearing loss in those who are afflicted with congenital malformations of the outer ear, auditory canal, or middle ear, chronic inflammation of the middle or outer ear, or bone disease. Because normal hearing aids rarely work for individuals with these afflictions, a new technology was needed. Bone conduction fits the bill. It is possible that the device can help those with impaired inner ear as well.
Called BCI (Bone Conduction Implant), this new hearing implant differs from other bone conduction devices in that it does not need to be attached to the skull with a titanium screw, and as a result the patient need not fear skin infections or losing the screw. The BCI is less than six centimeters long, and is attached directly to the skull bone beneath the skin behind the ear. The implant uses the skull bone to transmit sound vibrations to the inner ear, what is known as bone conduction. Researchers expect to present the first clinical results in early 2013, and if successful, the implant should be available to regular patients within two years.
There are two parts to the device: the implant beneath the skin, and the external sound processor. The sound processor can be easily attached or removed from the head, and is held in place by two magnets. It transmits sound through an inductive link to an internal receiver. The signal is then transmitted to a loudspeaker that creates the vibrations that reach the sensory organs of the cochlea. This durable and functional BCI could lead to a dramatic decrease in the amount of people suffering from deafness. So far, the Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) technique is helping more than 100,000 patients, and with this new development, it is expected to be widely implemented in the future.