Deep in the inner ear of mammals is a natural battery — a chamber filled with ions that produces an electrical potential to drive neural signals. In today’s issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, a team of researchers from MIT, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) demonstrate for the first time that this battery could power implantable electronic devices without impairing hearing.
The devices could monitor biological activity in the ears of people with hearing or balance impairments, or responses to therapies. Eventually, they might even deliver therapies themselves.
In experiments, Konstantina Stankovic, an otologic surgeon at MEEI, and HST graduate student Andrew Lysaght implanted electrodes in the biological batteries in guinea pigs’ ears. Attached to the electrodes were low-power electronic devices developed by MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL). After the implantation, the guinea pigs responded normally to hearing tests, and the devices were able to wirelessly transmit data about the chemical conditions of the ear to an external receiver.