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Auditory Brainstem Implant and more Advanced Hearing Aids to Challenge Survival of Cochlear Hearing Implant

Cochlear and other types of hearing implants are becoming increasingly common for use among people hard of hearing. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a cochlear implant is fitted in approximately 188,000 people in the world today. In the US, almost 26,000 children and over 41,000 adults have a cochlear implant. However, unfortunately, these hearing aids sometimes fail to cater to the specific hearing needs of those with impaired auditory nerve or inner ear. Experts in the hearing implants field are of the opinion that there is a need for hearing aids that could help send electrical signals directly to the auditory brainstem so that such individuals can hear again.

Auditory brainstem implant (ABI) is one of the effective hearing solutions or, to be specific, neuroprosthetic devices expected to show promise in helping people with damaged auditory nerve or inner ear to recover their precious sense of hearing. The global hearing implants market is marked with continuous research, product development, and innovation. Research organizations and manufacturers are always on the move to innovate hearing implants and introduce enhanced features. No hearing implant is perfect, and there’s always room for improvement. Even clinical ABIs have drawbacks. For instance, some types of ABI are unable to adjust to the curvature of the auditory brainstem because of their stiffness. Moreover, people using an ABI may recover only sound perception.

Intense Competition between Hearing Implant Technologies to Continue

In October 2019, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), a Swiss research institute and university specializing in natural sciences and engineering, announced the development of a new highly compliant and conductive electrode hearing implant. According to the EPFL, its next-gen soft hearing implant has potential to function as a substitute for ABIs used today. Developed through EPFL’s collaboration with Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, the conformable, highly elastic electrode implant is able to send highly targeted electrical signals as it precisely conforms to the curved surface of the auditory brainstem.

This is just one example of the several innovations that frequently surface in the global hearing implants market. Interestingly, there is always an innovation that betters another in the hearing implants field. Techniques and technologies keep improving, and there’s no stopping them. The battle to become the best and the latest innovation will always be there in the hearing implants business with discoveries of new hearing problems and their potential solutions. Will the demand shift from cochlear implants to ABIs to more technologically sophisticated hearing implants? Well, the shift could be in the cards if cochlear implants and ABIs fail to match tomorrow’s pace of innovation.

With high prevalence of hearing loss, the adoption of various types of hearing implants could increase in future. According to the NIH, around 17% of adults in the US today report to suffer from some type of hearing loss. Hearing loss is present in almost half of adults aged 75 years and above. Having that mentioned, only 20% of individuals who could benefit from hearing aids actually use them, according to the NIH. Nevertheless, healthcare organizations and governments are taking initiatives to ensure ease of access to hearing healthcare and make hearing aids affordable. This could help support the demand for hearing implants for the next few years, say market analysts.

Blog Author

Steven Chopade
October 22, 2019

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