The human cochlea harbors a remarkable system of about 3500 inner hair cells, responsible for picking up the acoustic vibrations that we interpret as sound. These delicate cells possess stereocilia, tiny mechanosensing organelles, which, at the threshold of hearing, move by a mere nanometer. In contrast, the stapes, part of the ossicular chain that relays the movement of the tympanic membrane into the inner ear, is the smallest bone in the human body, and yet its size exceeds this scale by a million times.
Hearing research delves into the realm of microscopic dimensions, necessitating specialized tools to address otologic diseases and disorders. To unravel the complexities of the auditory pathway, our team comprises engineers, clinicians, audiologists, and physicists, pooling their multidisciplinary expertise. The Hearing Research Lab is a collaboration between the Artorg Center for Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the Insel University Hospital in Bern.
One of our research focuses is the cochlear implant – a neural prosthesis that electrically stimulates the auditory nerve. We develop surgical instruments that augment the conventional surgical process and incorporate robotic assistance, with particular emphasis on creating cost-effective tools that seamlessly integrate into existing procedures. Moreover, we explore the implants sensory capabilities, striving to objectively monitor the insertion process using electrocochleography, and tracking implant migration and replacing radiographic imaging using impedance measurements.
Our research extends to more fundamental aspects, providing essential insights into the underlying mechanisms of hearing. We explore the ossicle motion using synchrotron radiation phase-contrast imaging techniques and analyze transverse flow patterns within the cochlea through finite element simulations. And using functional near-infrared spectroscopy, we improve our understanding on how hearing loss affects plastic brain changes.