Implantable biocompatible sensor microphone

Implantable biocompatible sensor microphone

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

A tiny, biocompatible sensor may overcome one of the biggest hurdles that prevent the devices from being completely implanted – MIT News

Cochlear implants, tiny electronic devices that can provide a sense of sound to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, have helped improve hearing for more than a million people worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health.

However, cochlear implants today are only partially implanted, and they rely on external hardware that typically sits on the side of the head. These components restrict users, who can’t, for instance, swim, exercise, or sleep while wearing the external unit, and they may cause others to forgo the implant altogether.

On the way to creating a fully internal cochlear implant, a multidisciplinary team of researchers at MIT, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School, and Columbia University has produced an implantable microphone that performs as well as commercial external hearing aid microphones. The microphone remains one of the largest roadblocks to adopting a fully internalized cochlear implant.

This tiny microphone, a sensor produced from a biocompatible piezoelectric material, measures miniscule movements on the underside of the ear drum. Piezoelectric materials generate an electric charge when compressed or stretched. To maximize the device’s performance, the team also developed a low-noise amplifier that enhances the signal while minimizing noise from the electronics.

While many challenges must be overcome before such a microphone could be used with a cochlear implant, the collaborative team looks forward to further refining and testing this prototype, which builds off work begun at MIT and Mass Eye and Ear more than a decade ago.

“It starts with the ear doctors who are with this every day of the week, trying to improve people’s hearing, recognizing a need, and bringing that need to us. If it weren’t for this team collaboration, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” says Jeffrey Lang, the Vitesse Professor of Electrical Engineering, a member of the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE), and co-senior author of a paper on the microphone.

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