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First Child Receives New Hearing Implant

(Vienna 10-04-2012) An 11-year old Viennese boy was the first child in the world to receive a bone conduction implant. The surgery was performed at the MedUni Vienna Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Diseases at the Vienna General Hospital. The 11-year old was born without pinnae and previously relied on an external bone conduction device to hear.

Under the direction of Wolfgang Gstöttner, the scientists at the university department of Ear, Nose and Throat Diseases first used high-resolution computer tomography to create a 3D model of the young patient’s skull. They identified the spot close to the ear where Wolf-Dieter Baumgartner proceeded to insert the bone conduction implant in a surgery that lasted just under one hour.

Due to a malformation in the boy’s ear, the oscillating parts located in the middle ear –eardrum, malleus, incus, stirrup – were damaged, causing moderate hearing loss. Wolf-Dieter Baumgartner elaborates: “This new bone conduction implant relies on bone conduction to transmit sound waves to the inner ear. This means that the sound waves do not take the natural way of human hearing via the pinna and the middle ear, but are directly transmitted through the bone to the inner ear.”

“A completely normal life“
What makes this new implant, which was developed by the Austrian company MED-EL Medical Electronics, so special is that all acoustic stimulation components are located in the cranial bone. This makes the surgery easier and shorter. Wolf-Dieter Baumgartner explains: “The boy will be able to lead a normal hearing life. This new implant is also an option for patients who do not respond to traditional ear surgery.” In particular, people with chronic middle ear infections are ideal candidates for this surgery.

The new bone conduction implant is an excellent choice for patients who suffer from conductive hearing loss, single-sided deafness or ear malformations. This would make other solutions, including the “BAHA screw” and the “bone conduction glasses” a thing of the past. To conduct sound waves, these solutions rely on obtrusive titanium screws placed behind the ear or glasses that put pressure on the scalp. In Austria, it is estimated that approximately 80 patients, 40 of whom are Vienna residents, should be candidates for such an implant, said Mr Baumgartner, adding that “there are patients who have been waiting for something like this for many years”.

An ENT department with an excellent reputation

The latest research success underscores the leading position that the MedUni Vienna and the Vienna General Hospital have earned in the area of ENT implants. The first cochlea implant was performed at the Viennese ENT department in 1977. This cochlea implant was also the first multichannel cochlea implant in the world. Another world-wide first followed in September 2011: at the Vienna General Hospital, a patient received an ultrathin “floating electrode” as part of a cochlea implant designed to preserve residual hearing. For this purpose, researchers at MedUni Vienna developed a new and gentle surgical procedure. They also played a significant role in the development of the 0.2 mm electrode, which replaced the previously used 0.5 mm electrode.

Wolfgang Gstöttner heads the Vienna department and is an internationally renowned hearing implants expert. He and Wolf-Dieter Baumgartner are members of the international network of preeminent centres offering hearing implant solutions (HEARRING).