Optical cochlea implant: ERC Proof of Concept Grant for Tobias Moser
ERC Proof of Concept Grant for Tobias Moser
Tobias Moser, MD, Director of the Institute for Auditory Neuroscience at the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) received a Proof of Concept Grant of the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC supports his re-search project ”Waveguide-based Cochlear Implants for Optogenetic Stimulation“ (Opto Wave).
The funding of 150.000 euros supports him in the transfer of research findings to close the gap between the discoveries from pioneering research and their practical application. The funding is part of the EU’s research and innovation program, Horizon Europe.
Prof. Dr. med. Tobias Moser, Director of the Institute for Auditory Neuroscience Göttingen.
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“OptoWave” builds on Moser’s pioneering work on optogenetic restoration of hea-ring in the “OptoHear” project, which was funded by an ERC Advanced Grant. “The funding for ‘OptoWave’ will enable us to move forward with the further development of the optical cochlear implant on its way to application for hearing-impaired people”, says Tobias Moser.
Optical cochlear implants (oCI) promise to compensate for the function of missing or impaired hair cells in profoundly deaf and hard of hearing patients, thus aiming to restore near-natural hearing. The innovative approach envisions to combine an implantable medical device with a gene therapy medicinal product. The incorpora-tion of light-gated ion channels into the auditory nerve enables its precise neural stimulation by light (optogenetics) produced by microscale light emitters, thereby bypassing the dysfunctional or absent hair cells. Studies in animal models promise that hearing with light enables a significantly more natural hearing impression than the electrical hearing prostheses used to date.
Initial studies of this principle have been successfully conducted by stimulation of the auditory nerve with blue light producing micro-LEDs. Due to the reduced risk of phototoxicity and improved tissue penetration, the use of lower energy red light would be more favorable. With “OptoWave” we aim to verify the feasibility of using red light optical waveguide modules in oCIs. Together with scientists from Chemnitz, Moser and his team have already been able to take first steps towards establishing this promising technology. The proposed waveguide-based optical module combines several favourable properties, which makes it a promising candidate for later clinical application. The optoelectronic emitters (laserdiodes) can be safely integrated in the hermetically sealed titanium package housing the internal electronics. The emitters thus do not need to be inserted into the cochlea, but send their light toward the optogenetically modified auditory nerve via waveguides.
“The design of the preclinical optical module will be done in close alignment with the requirement of a later-stage clinical oCI,” says Moser. The aim is to prove the feasibility of miniaturization and integration of the optical components.