Archived — Government, academics and private industry collaborate to create implantable hearing aids and other innovative products

Dr. Rob Adamson of Dalhousie University's Faculty of Medicine, holding a model of the hearing device.

Dr. Rob Adamson of Dalhousie University's Faculty of Medicine, holding a model of the hearing device. Dr. Adamson is a member of the team that has been developing the new hearing aid implant. The team received $86,564 in funding over three years from the Collaborative Health Research Projects (CHRP) Program.

A new generation of implantable hearing aids will soon be available thanks to collaboration among university researchers, government and private industry.

Dalhousie University, with funding from the Government of Canada's Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Collaborative Health Research Projects (a part of the Industry Canada Portfolio), has facilitated collaboration between its researchers and private industry to help commercialize this university-created intellectual property.

The new generation of implantable hearing aids are designed to be invisible, innocuous and low maintenance while providing increased sound, clarity and comfort with minimum feedback. The university has partnered with Houston-based Ototronix LLC, to develop and commercialize this exciting new technology.

"The device designed in our Faculty of Medicine and the School of Biomedical Engineering can attach directly to the skull," explains Stephen Hartlen, Assistant Vice President (Industry Relations) and Executive Director of the Industry Liaison and Innovation Office at Dalhousie University. "It will also help patients who cannot wear conventional hearing aids because they have abnormal or missing external ear canals. This new technology will enable skin to grow over the implant making it virtually undetectable and resistant to infection. It is invisible once it has been implanted and is great from a patient's point of view because it becomes a part of them, they don't have to think about it anymore."

"This hearing device technology is one example of how Industry Canada's support – through the Collaborative Health Research Project – helped us develop the technology to the stage where it was of interest to the private sector. Without a program like this, it's very difficult to get a project to the state where you can market it. It's a significant contribution."

The device works by conducting vibrations through the skull to the inner ear directly, bypassing the middle ear. In the case of single-sided deafness, people with this device can transmit sound from the deaf side to the hearing side through skull vibrations.

Though still in the research and development stage, the Dalhousie research team has been working since 2009 to develop this new technology. By 2011, work had progressed enough that Jeremy Brown, an assistant professor at Dalhousie's School of Biomedical Engineering, presented the team's work at an international conference. A representative from Ototronix, a medical device company, was in the audience. It didn't take long for the company to visit Halifax to see the technology first hand. Soon after, the company worked with Dalhousie University to licence the technology and is currently funding the research that is furthering the work in preparation for patient trials.

"This is different," states Michael Spearman, CEO of Ototronix LLC. "We knew when we first heard about this that they were onto something, and have a unique technology. To us, if you're going to bring the next generation of technology to market, it has to be different. It can't be the same old stuff."

We see significant benefits arising at Dalhousie from increased interactions with industry and we are beginning to see an emerging cluster in medical technologies in Halifax, with Dalhousie's School of Biomedical Engineering and Capital Health at the epicentre," adds Stephen Hartlen. "Dalhousie's Industry Liaison and Innovation Office promotes these relationships so private industry can meet challenges, become more competitive and create new products, services and processes. They can also lead to new entrepreneurial opportunities when research develops into new spin-off companies.

To see if you may be eligible to participate in Collaborative Health Research Projects or other programs, visit the NSERC website.

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