Toward steerable electrodes : an overview of concepts and current research
Restoration of hearing is a demanding surgical task which requires the insertion of a cochlear implant electrode array into the inner ear while preserving the delicate basilar membrane inside the cochlea for an atraumatic insertion. Already shortly after the first clinical success with early versions of cochlear implants the desire for a controlled insertion of the electrode array arose. Such a steerable electrode should be in its shape adaptable to the individual path of the helical inner ear in order to avoid any contact between the implant and the surrounding tissue. This article provides a short overview of concepts and actuator mechanisms investigated in the past and present with the objective of developing a steerable electrode array for an individualized insertion process. Although none of these concepts has reached clinical implementation, there are promising experimental results indicating that insertion forces can be reduced up to 60% compared to straight and not steerable electrodes. Finally, related research topics are listed which require considerable further improvements until steerable electrodes will reach clinical applicability.