News & media

Deaf regain hearing

17 March 2010

Helge Rask Andersen, together with Kristian Pfaller at Innsbruck Medical University, has produced a unique image of the human inner ear.

With the help of various types of implants, many deaf people today can regain at least parts of their hearing. It is possible to replace damaged hair cells in the cochlea with an electronic receptor. Researchers at Uppsala University and University Hospital in Uppsala are the only ones in the Nordic countries to use the method of placing a tiny electronic plate directly in the brainstem.

Hearing is the only sense that can be restored artificially.
- It’s a great stride for medicine to be able to restore a sense, says Helge Rask-Andersen, chief physician at Uppsala University Hospital and professor of experimental otology at the Department of Surgical Sciences.

The most advanced implant is a so-called brainstem implant, which is primarily used for patients who once had good hearing, but had an auditory nerve damaged, for example in connection with tumors on the auditory nerves.

- Thanks to close collaboration between neuro and ear surgeons at University Hospital, we can simultaneously remove the tumor and place the implant directly on the auditory core in the brainstem, says Helge Rask-Andersen, who was the first in Europe to perform a brainstem implant.
- One of our patients has regained so much of her hearing that she can talk on the phone, something no one had expected, he says.

A couple of patients undergo such an operation each year. Considerably more common is the cochlea implant, which helps patients whose deafness is a result of a withering of the hair cells in the cochlea. This damage can either be congenital or acquired later in life.

Today the hearing is checked in all newborns, and double implants are inserted in all children who are born deaf.
- These children can often hear well enough to attend regular classes in school, says Helge Rask-Andersen.

In January 2009 the first child underwent surgery to get a brainstem implant. The child lacked auditory nerves and could not have a cochlea implant. At the time of the operation, the child was two years old and had been totally deaf since birth and therefore had no language, which normally takes two-three years to develop, but the child can already say a few words.
- Everything looks good so far, says Helge Rask-Andersen.

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Research on ear, nose and throat

Surgical science comprises research in classical general surgery such as colorectal surgery, endocrine surgery, and vascular surgery. Newer areas include urological surgery, thorax surgery, neurosurgery, and transplant surgery. Read more about surgical diseases.