Under normal circumstances the organ of balance records movements of the head. These movements of the head are converted into electrical signals that are passed on to both equilibrium nerves. These signals are processed inthe brain and in this way movements are observed. This leads to, among others, image stabilisation, balance and spacial orientation.
With people suffering from Usher Syndrome type 1 the organ of balance is not functioning, as a result of which these bodily functions can be disrupted.
The purpose of the vestibular implant is to partly recover the functions of the organs of balance. The implant has been composed of an external part which, just like a cochlear implant, can be magnetically connected with the surgically implanted internal part. This surgery is similar to that of a cochlear implant. The external part includes, among other things, gyroscopes, which observe and measure the movements of the head. Subsequently, a microprocessor converts this information into electrical signals. These electrical signals are passed on through the internal part of the implant to the ends of the equilibrium nerve in the organ of balance.
A team of researchers and physicians in Maastricht and Geneva is conducting pilot studies into an artificial organ of balance and/or vestibular implant for patients whose organs of balance have both failed.
‘We implanted the VI with the first people in 2012’, ENT specialist Raymond van de Berg (Maastricht UMC+) tells us. ‘We are still in the testing phase, but the results are promising. We believe that this will be more widely applicable in the future.’
His colleague Joost Stultiens (research physician Maastricht UMC+) is doing a study into the further development of the implant. He tells us: ‘We found out that we could recover certain functions of the organs of balance of the patients who had undergone surgery. We are now further improving the implant and the implanting technique.’
Recently, the researchers in the Maastricht UMC+ were granted a large subsidy for testing the use of a vestibular implant (VI) in daily life with a number of test persons. This is a major step on the way to the objective to make available the VI to all patients with failing organs of balance on both sides in a few years. Apart from this, people are working on the development of a vestibular and cochlear implant in one, the so-called vestibulo-cochlear implant (VCI).