Using advanced techniques at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan, scientists have created three-dimensional images of the complex interior anatomy of the human ear, information that is key to improving the design and placement of cochlear implants.
“With the images, we can now see the relationship between the cochlear implant electrode and the soft tissue, and we can design electrodes to better fit the cochlea,” said Dr. Helge Rask-Andersen, senior professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.
“The technique is fantastic and we can now assess the human inner ear in a very detailed way.”
The cochlea is the part of the inner ear that looks like a snail shell and receives sound in the form of vibrations. In cases of hearing loss, cochlear implants are used to bypass damaged parts of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The implant generates signals that travel via the auditory nerve to the brain and are recognized as sound.
By imaging the soft and bony structures of the inner ear with implant electrodes in place, Rask-Andersen said the researchers were able to discover what the auditory nerve looks like in three dimensions, and to learn how cochlear implant electrodes behave inside the cochlea. This is very important when cochlear implants are considered for people with limited hearing.
Image: the inner ear