SBIR Phase I: Implantable Robotic System for Hearing Loss Treatment

Period of Performance: 07/01/2016 - 06/30/2017


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Firm POC, Principal Investigator


The broader impact/commercial potential of this project will be improved capabilities of current hearing assistive cochlear implants through the development of a miniature implantable robotic system. It will enable many more patients with hearing loss to retain their hearing capacity much longer over their lifetimes. Hearing loss has a significant impact on physical and mental health, education, employment, and overall quality of life, and has been linked to an increased risk of dementia and feelings of depression, frustration, anxiety, and social isolation. 53 million people have severe-to-profound hearing loss and are eligible for traditional cochlear implants, but there are an additional 300 million with partial-to-moderate disabling hearing loss who are not eligible for a traditional implant and do not significantly benefit from other hearing assistive devices alone. The development of this technology will enable a much wider population of those with hearing loss to receive the benefits of a cochlear implant, using a novel wireless control and the added convenience of personalized hearing loss treatment regimens. This technology will also facilitate commercial opportunities for use of the implantable robotic system in other applications where an implantable electrode/wire requires precise and dynamic remote position adjustments. This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project will design, develop and test a prototype of an implantable robotic system that wirelessly optimizes cochlear implant function and enables clinician adjustments as patient hearing deteriorates. Though traditional cochlear implants are used to treat severe-profound hearing loss, recent advances in hearing preservation technologies have allowed those with partial hearing loss, such as from noise exposure or aging, to benefit from cochlear implants. Unfortunately, clinical trials have found that more than 50% of these recipients experience continued hearing deterioration after cochlear implantation. Treatment options are limited to additional surgery for electrode replacement or living with limited hearing because the implants cannot be adjusted. This research is focused on developing an implantable robotic control system that will enable cochlear implants to dynamically adjust to post-surgical hearing decline without the need for additional surgery. In Phase I, individual components will be assembled into a functioning implantable robotic system that meets design and surgical size requirements to effectively move an electrode within a human cadaveric cochlea model. Anticipated results will include a prototype that has a novel micromechanical system for electrode adjustments, wireless communications for external control, and safe transcutaneous power.