Experimental Surgery Brings Bionic Hearing to Deaf Boy

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Experimental Surgery Brings Bionic Hearing to Deaf Boy

 Brain Implants
Auguste Majkowski was born deaf but can now hear after undergoing experimental surgery to implant a bionic device directly into his brain stem.

Auguste Majkowski age three, was born without hearing, but after auditory brain stem implant surgery in California, the Montreal boy is now reacting to some sounds.​  Auguste is the first child in the United States to undergo an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) surgery in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved trial supported by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial grant. On June 12, six weeks after surgery at CHLA, the device was activated with positive results at the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery clinic at Keck Medicine of USC.

“Sometimes we call his name and he looks up. This is something we've never seen him do before. This is amazing,” said Auguste's mother, Sophie Gareau.

Auguste was born without auditory nerves, meaning sounds can't travel to his brain.

"This is a first step in offering a technology to children that have been unable to benefit from prosthetic devices."

Cochlear implants didn't work, so Gareau went looking for other options.

Last year in North Carolina, when Grayson Clamp heard his father's voice for the first time, the three-year-old's reaction captured hearts around the world.

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Gareau saw the video on YouTube and wondered if her son could receive the same treatment.

“I ended up talking to the team in California and they said maybe Auguste is a perfect candidate,” said Gareau. After many meetings and trips to the Children's Hospital, Los Angeles, Auguste underwent surgery to receive an auditory implant.

During the six-hour surgery in May, doctors made an incision by Auguste’s right ear and removed his right cochlear implant before implanting the ABI device on his brainstem. The ABI device has external and internal parts. The external parts, which consist of a processor with a microphone and transmitter, transform sound into electrical signals and transmit the signals to an internal receiver that is part of the electrode array. The electrode array is placed on the cochlear nucleus of the brainstem. The procedure is considered revolutionary because it stimulates neurons directly at the human brainstem, bypassing the inner ear entirely.

Auguste is among the first of 10 children who will receive this treatment, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"This is a first step in offering a technology to children that have been unable to benefit from prosthetic devices,” said Dr. Laurie Eisenberg, professor of otolaryngology, University of Southern California.

The procedure is controversial, because it's seen by some in the deaf community as an insult to those who learn sign language and it also comes with risks.

“It's the brain. If they hit the wrong spot, [there] could be paralysis,” said Gareau.

For Auguste, the only visible sign he underwent the surgery is a processor that he wears with a microphone and a transmitter that allows him to respond to signals he would never have been able to detect before.

Auguste's parents said they've been so pleased with the results, they want to help make the surgery available in Canada.

SOURCE  CBC, Children's Hospital, Los Angeles

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