Restore balance to individuals disabledby bilateral loss of vestibular sensation
For tens of thousands of people who suffer from severe loss of vestibular sensation due to gentamicin ototoxicity, genetic defects, other drug reactions, Ménière’s disease, infection or other inner ear diseases, a new device in development at Johns Hopkins may alleviate symptoms of the balance disorder, including chronic disequilibrium and difficulty seeing while walking or driving.
In recent studies in animals, Johns Hopkins Vestibular NeuroEngineering Lab researchers have shown that a damaged sense of balance can be restored effectively with a multichannel vestibular prosthesis device implanted in the inner ear.
“The inner ear measures how your head is oriented and how it’s moving,” explains Charles C. Della Santina, MD PhD, Professor in the Division of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery and Director of the Vestibular NeuroEngineering Laboratory. “That information drives reflexes that keep you from falling and keep your vision steady. Without it, you feel wobbly and the world seems to drift whenever you move your head.”
Since 2002, members of the VNEL been developing and testing increasingly sophisticated versions of the Johns Hopkins Multichannel Vestibular Prosthesis (MVP), which includes multiple sensors and channels of processing allowing it to measure and encode head rotation in all directions. The device is very similar to a cochlear implant (in fact, cochlear electrodes can be included to also stimulate the cochlea if the ear being implanted is deaf). Animal trials show that the device effectively mimics the workings of the inner ear, by sensing head rotation and transmitting that information to the brain through selective electrical stimulation of branches of the vestibular nerve. A clinical trial is being organized to extend this technology to individuals suffering from chronic imbalance.