The auditory brainstem implant (ABI) is an electronic device that is inserted surgically to provide a sense of sound to patients with exacerbated deaf due to retrocochlear hearing impairment, or damage to the auditory nerve caused by either injury or illness.
Similar to cochlear implants, this technology stimulates the recipient’s brainstem instead of auditory portion of the inner.
The ABI consists of a small radio receiver inserted under the skin and several platinum electrodes attached to the brainstem. The device stimulates the neurons directly at the stem, with no use of the auditory nerve.
Currently 14, Maggie was born without cochleas, and she was able to hear for the first time when hearing specialists at University Hospital (UH) Case Medical Center in Cleveland, OH offered her an ABI. According to Maroun Semaan, one of Maggie’s surgeons, she was the first recipient of ABIs for missing cochleas.
“For someone who has never heard, the perception and awareness of sound is extremely helpful,” said Dr. Semaan.
ABIs have been around since the late 1970s, when Italian doctor Vittorio Colletti began implanting them in deaf adults. Later the devices have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in adults since 2000. But in recent years, researchers have been exploring the exciting possibilities for the devices to give the gift of hearing to children who have never known it.
There are, however, significant risks.
“We’re talking about real surgery to go into a deep area of the brain,” Dr. Marc Schwartz, a neurosurgeon with the House Clinic and Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Los Angeles who is part of the USC study, told the AP. “This is a precise operation that requires exacting technique.”