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Implant measures hearing quality through brain waves

For the first time, researchers have succeeded in registering brain waves through a hearing implant. Using a cochlear implant, eperts at KU Leuven measured brain waves to analyze the quality of a person’s hearing in an objective way. The findings may ultimately assist in the development of improved smart hearing aids. 

A cochlear implant is designed for people with severe hearing loss. The device is adjusted based on the user’s input, but this can be challenging in certain cases,  such as when children are born deaf. It is difficult to assess how well babies can hear sounds in order to tune a hearing implant.

One possible solution is to adjust the device based on brain waves, which contain information about how an individual processes the sounds they hear. In collaboration with the manufacturer Cochlear, the KU Leuven team has demonstrated that this is possible. 

“We used an experimental implant that works exactly the same way as a normal implant, but with easier access to the electronics,” says postdoctoral researcher Ben Somers.

“A cochlear implant contains electrodes that stimulate the auditory nerve. This is how sound signals are transmitted to the brain. In our research, we have succeeded in using these implanted electrodes to record the brain waves that arise in response to sound. That is a first.” 

“An additional advantage is that by carefully choosing the right measuring electrodes, we can measure larger brain responses than the classical EEG with electrodes on the head.”

According to Professor Tom Francart, an implant that can register brain waves and measure hearing quality on its own has various advantages.

“Firstly, we get an objective measurement that does not depend on the user’s input. In addition, you could measure a person’s hearing in everyday life and monitor it better,” said Professor Francart. “So, in the long run, the user would no longer have to undergo testing at the hospital. An audiologist could consult the data remotely and adjust the implant where necessary.”

“In the future, it should even be possible for the hearing implant to adjust itself autonomously based on the recorded brain waves. We have a long way to go before that, but this study is a necessary first step. Based on our findings, manufacturers can now move forward with developing smart hearing devices that improve the quality of life of the people that use them.”

“Besides audiological applications, there are numerous other possibilities that come with measuring brain waves. Think of monitoring sleep, attention span or epilepsy, but also, for example, so-called brain computer interfaces that allow you to control other devices with brainwaves.”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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