Strategies in Cochlear Nerve Regeneration, Guidance and Protection Prospects for Future Cochlear Implants

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Today, it is possible to restore hearing in congenitally deaf children and severely hearing-impaired adults through cochlear implants (CIs). A CI consists of an external sound processor that provides acoustically induced signals to an internal receiver. The receiver feeds information to an electrode array inserted into the fluid-filled cochlea, where it provides direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve. Despite its great success, there is still room for improvement, so as to provide the patient with better frequency resolution, pitch information for music and speech perception and overall improved quality of sound. A better stimulation mode for the auditory nerves by increasing the number of stimulation points is believed to be a part of the solution. Current technology depends on strong electrical pulses to overcome the anatomical gap between neurons and the CI. The spreading of currents limits the number of stimulation points due to signal overlap and crosstalk.Closing the anatomical gap between spiral ganglion neurons and the CI could lower the stimulation thresholds, reduce current spread, and generate a more discrete stimulation of individual neurons. This strategy may depend on the regenerative capacity of auditory neurons, and the ability to attract and guide them to the electrode and bridge the gap.Here, we investigated the potential of cultured human and murine neurons from primary inner ear tissue and human neural progenitor cells to traverse this gap through an extracellular matrix gel.Furthermore, nanoparticles were used as reservoirs for neural attractants and applied to CI electrode surfaces. The nanoparticles retained growth factors, and inner ear neurons showed affinity for the reservoirs in vitro.The potential to obtain a more ordered neural growth on a patterned, electrically conducting nanocrystalline diamond surface was also examined. Successful growth of auditory neurons that attached and grew on the patterned substrate was observed.By combining the patterned diamond surfaces with nanoparticle-based reservoirs and nerve-stimulating gels, a novel, high resolution CI may be created. This strategy could potentially enable the use of hundreds of stimulation points compared to the 12 – 22 used today. This could greatly improve the hearing sensation for many CI recipients. 

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