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Implantable Device  (Source: Cochlear Ltd.)
Implant restores balance during Meniere's attacks

Researchers at the University of Washington Medical Center have developed an implantable
device that could help patients with Meniere's disease restore their balance. The device is being tested on a patient for the first time today. 

Dr. Jay Rubinstein and Dr. James Phillips, both from the University of Washington Medical Center, spent over four years developing the device for patients suffering from balance disorders due to Meniere's disease. Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that affects a person's balance and hearing, and it occurs in less than one percent of the U.S. population. The balance issues associated with this disease occur due to the inner-ear membrane rupturing and leaking endolymphatic fluid out of the vestibular system, which blurs the brain's view of balance.

Up until this point, Meniere's disease was treated with medication, change of diet, exercise and in more severe cases, surgery. But surgery for this particular disease usually means having to give up the ability to hear in the affected ear in order to stop the vertigo. 

To remedy Meniere's disease patients' problems with balance, researchers created a cochlear implant and processor that contains re-engineered software and electrode arrays. The processor is worn behind the affected ear, and when an attack occurs, the patient is to activate it. The device, which is implanted underneath the processor in a "well" made inside the temporal bone, is alerted wirelessly by the processor and sends electrical impulses through three electrodes that are located in the inner ear's canals. The electrodes are placed on the superior semicircular canal, lateral semicircular canal and posterior semicircular canal. 

"It's an override," said Phillips. "It doesn't change what's happening in the ear, but it eliminates the symptoms while replacing the function of that ear until it recovers."

The invention of this new device is based off of cochlear implants, which have a design that is already FDA-approved. While researchers at other institutions were developing brand-new prototypes, Rubinstein and Phillips jumped ahead of the game by developing a device that is already FDA-approved.

"If you started from scratch, in a circumstance like this where no one has ever treated a vestibular disorder with a device, it probably would take 10 years to develop such a device," said Rubinstein.  

Researchers are conducting the first 10-person surgical trial to test the device starting today. The first patient, a 56-year-old man from Yakima, Wash., has unilateral Meniere's disease. Researchers hope for a successful trial that could lead to the widespread use of these implants as well as gain better understanding of other balance disorders.

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RE: You'll never do X again
By MrBlastman on 10/21/2010 3:04:27 PM , Rating: 3
I dunno, I was born with nearsightedness and a congenital heart defect. I accepted years ago that I'll never be a fighter pilot in the armed services. My genes just weren't "perfect" enough.

I get what you're saying though, and find it absolutely amazing the technological solutions we are coming up with these days to solve maladies. Menieres is a seriously debilitating condition and I can only hope that this device helps solve it.

RE: You'll never do X again
By VahnTitrio on 10/21/2010 4:35:30 PM , Rating: 2
Forwarded this article to my sister; got this as a reply:

"Interesting. Too bad I didn't know about it until today, they might have tried it on me, instead of having my ear cut open on monday... oh well :P"

Hopefully the surgery goes well for her though.

RE: You'll never do X again
By MozeeToby on 10/22/2010 11:03:33 AM , Rating: 3
Nearsightedness is pretty easily fixed these days, even to the point of being a fighter pilot. A congenital heart defect is obviously harder, but there are already artificial replacement hearts in testing. Don't know if they're fighter pilot worthy of course, but there's little reason that they couldn't be.

Of course, I was really talking about day to day things, not the most extreme end of human activities. Things like walking, talking, seeing, holding your child, etc.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad

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