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April 2010 Issue

Ravi Samy, MD
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UC Center Chosen to Study Auditory Brainstem Implants

By Cindy Starr
Published April 2010

If a siren sounded but you were deaf, might you still be able to hear the sound?

That is a challenge being addressed by Ravi Samy, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery at UC and director of the Adult Cochlear Implant Program at the UC Neuroscience Institute’s Functional Neuroscience Center.

Samy is studying an investigational device that may enable people who have lost hearing in both ears to still be able to process certain types of noise.

The device, developed by Cochlear Corporation, works by stimulating the brainstem, which sends a message to the brain that a noise has been "heard.”

During the normal hearing process, Samy explains, "Sound waves pass through the ear canal and cause the ear drum to vibrate. Three little ear bones (ossicles) in the middle ear then vibrate, and fluid is moved in the snailshell-shaped cochlea. This sets off hair cell movement and subsequent electrical discharges through the cochlear nerve, which are transferred to the cochlear nucleus and the brainstem to the higher centers of the brain.”

UC’s collaborative functional team provide cochlear implants to patients who have become deaf due to genetic defects, infection, medication, age and noise. These patients have suffered damage to the hair cells in the cochlea but have a healthy cochlear nerve.

For those patients whose cochlear nerves are damaged, a different treatment is needed. The most promising solution is a device called an auditory brainstem implant.

"This implant bypasses the cochlea and the cochlear nerve and is placed right next to the cochlear nucleus of the brainstem,” Samy explains.

"We can stimulate that region, and then our patients have some sense of hearing. It won’t be the level provided by cochlear implants; it won’t be normal hearing. But our hope is that with day-to-day advancements and lip-reading skills, we can give patients an improved quality of life.”

Samy expects to perform the first auditory brainstem implant this spring at UC Health University Hospital. He reports no financial interest in Cochlear Corporation.

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