Electronic Design

Aculight Creating Implant To Aid Vision, Balance

A laser-based nerve-stimulation device being developed by Aculight Corp. will be used in a joint effort with the University of Washington to create a vestibular implant to treat impaired balance and vision. The work is being performed under a contract from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which includes an $850,000 award from the National Institutes of Health. Located within the inner ear, the vestibular system is the body’s balance system. It sends signals to the muscles that keep us upright and to the neural structures that control eye movements. Balance and vision impairments occur when the vestibular hair cells become damaged, prohibiting the transmission of sensory signals to the brain. There are no clinically available treatments to restore the loss of sensory information. However, researchers believe that direct vestibular stimulation may alleviate symptoms in many patients. Infrared stimulation, in particular, could provide a precise, controlled, non-contact method of stimulating the nerve. “Balance disorders such as vertigo and dizziness are among the most common reasons that elderly Americans seek heath care,” Mark Bendett, Aculight's director of medical products, said in a statement. “We're laying the foundation for an optical implant that could treat patients with balance and vision impairments due to vestibular system damage. This SBIR will enable Aculight to produce a laser-based nerve stimulation device that can be used in research studies at the University of Washington prior to developing a model for clinical applications.”

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