£1.4m research project could ‘transform the lives of many profoundly deaf patients’

30 June 2016

Professor Phil Begg and Mr Richard Irving

Professor Phil Begg and Mr Richard Irving

Researchers based at University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) have embarked on the SIME: Human Feasibility Study of an Implantable Middle Ear Microphone after securing £1.4 million NIHR funding for the next three years.

The NIHR, the research arm of the NHS, funded the study after the UHB team successfully bid under its i4i (Invention for Innovation) Award programme.

The project aims to test a small microphone which can be implanted directly into the middle ear of profoundly deaf patients.

“We’re very excited about it because this microphone could become a key component to enhance the performance of future cochlear implants,” said Professor Phil Begg, who is leading the research.

Currently those with cochlear implants have to wear bulky and unsightly external microphones on their heads which must be removed at night and are not practical for many physical activities.

“There are 800,000 adults and 45,000 children in the UK who have a severe to profound hearing loss but there are only 10,000 cochlear implant users,” added Professor Begg.

“The hearing implant programme here at UHB is one of the largest in the UK. What we want to do is to try to normalise life for people.

“We are suggesting that fixing the microphone in the middle ear is a much more natural position for it.

“Initially, our team of world class surgeons, audiologists, researchers and scientists will use cadaveric research to make sure the microphone can be securely placed into the middle ear and test sound quality before implanting it into six patients who already have cochlear implants.

“This could help transform the lives of many profoundly deaf patients across the globe and UHB are absolutely at the cutting edge of this. The patients who work with us on this project will be pioneers.”

UHB Ear, Nose and Throat consultant Richard Irving added: “This could be a significant advancement in cochlear implant technology.

“We are working with cochlear implants because that’s the obvious place to start, but this technology could potentially be applicable to other hearing technologies in the future which would be much more far reaching.”