EFRE K-Regio project: eVITA - electrical Vestibular Implant Tyrol Austria
- UMIT, Institute of Biomedical Image Analysis (IBIA)
- University Hospital Innsbruck
- MED-EL GmbH
- Sistro Präzisionsmechanik GmbH
- LaiTronic GmbH
Funding: Federal state of Tyrol with in the K-Regio program. This project is cofunded by the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRE). Further information about IWB/EFRE can be found under www.efre.gv.at
Failure of our vestibular system in the inner ear leads to an impaired sense of balance and blurred vision. Patients suffering from vestibular dysfunction are at risk of falling, and in addition to that the failure of their natural image stabilizer leads to a significant detriment to their quality of life. This also causes significant healthcare costs. The success in the application of cochlear implants showed that the organ of hearing can be supported by a biotechnical product, allowing patients with impaired hearing to regain their acoustic perception.
The company MED-EL in Innsbruck in cooperation with the Medical University Innsbruck and the private university UMIT in Hall plans to develop vestibular implants in addition to cochlear implants and active middle ear implants. The working groups of both universities already collaborated in the research field of micro-anatomical modeling of the inner ear. The company LaiTronic in Innsbruck designs a motion-capture system for the objective analysis of gait of affected persons in order to develop a complete diagnostic and adaptation system for MED-EL. The company Sistro Präzisionsmechanik in Hall produces the challenging moulds needed for the manufacturing of the required electrode systems. Most of the partners in the current project showed in previous works that the objectives can be achieved.
First prototypes were already implanted in Europe and in the USA and the results are promising. Nevertheless, strong development efforts are required to obtain the final product and to identify suitable patient groups in order to tap the market potential. The existing prior knowledge should be used in this project to optimally reach the sensory organs for perception of acceleration and gravity by specifically designed electrodes. The loss of vestibular sensory cells should be compensated by targeted electrical stimulation. This goal can only be achieved by interdisciplinary efforts by combining relevant competences in the fields of biomedical informatics, microanatomy and physiology of the inner ear.
The project deals with challenging tasks: The fragile structures of the inner ear should not be damaged during the implantation of the electrodes due to the potential risk of impairing the hearing ability. Many nerves in the neighborhood of targeted vestibular nerve branches should not be stimulated. The measurement of variations in the microanatomy and the degree of ossification together with computer simulations should help to identify suitable positions and stimulation waveform shapes, allowing the company MED-EL to develop vestibular implants for as many patients as possible.