A team of engineers from the CEIT-IK4 technological centre and doctors from the University Hospital of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, have designed a new tool for operating on the inner ear with maximum precision, reducing the chances of damage to the auditory function during the surgery, say school representatives, who add that this is the first micromanipulator specifically for operations involving cochlear and middle ear implants—of which about a hundred are carried out in the hospital annually. Taking part in developing the new tool were four engineers from CEIT and five ear, nose, and throat specialists from the University Hospital of Navarra.

The micromanipulator, patented by the University of Navarra, is a surgical working tool that aims to aid the surgeon in situations involving very small dimensions that are highly sensitive—such as the inner ear, the size of which is less than the nail of a forefinger. Working with precision in such a small space and with such a delicate structure is highly complicated. The micromanipulator enables operating with precision in spaces of these small dimensions, working in tandem with auditory surgical microinstruments. The micromanipulator is a tool for working with the inner ear in a precision manner, without affecting its function.

The micromanipulator has two parts: one of these is anchored to the temporal bone of the patient, to act as support for a series of elements which go together with the milling tool. The surgeon makes a hole in the temporal bone with this tool, to gain access to the inner ear. In the center of this second series of elements is a small metallic part, which is flexible device provides the surgeon with greater control and precision on milling, making up for the vibrations of the hand itself.

Among the main advantages of the micromanipulator is its enhanced precision in working, as it enables operating on the inner ear in a more exact manner, opening up a series of possibilities depending on techniques for the treatment of illnesses that can affect this zone of the auditory system.

This is why the applications of the micromanipulator are currently focused on cochlear implants and auditory implants of the middle ear. In the future, the technique could be used for introducing stem cells in order to regenerate the inner ear and secrete certain pharmaceutical drugs that provide the possibility of curing diseases that may arise in the zone.

The development of the micromanipulator is the first joint venture between ear, nose, and throat specialists at the University Hospital and researchers at CEIT, the first in a series. The medics set out their requirements and the engineers then seek and devise solutions and tools that enable the former to resolve the problems. For the engineers the start of this venture was curious, because they had to learn the anatomy and physiology of the ear to know the terrain in which they were moving to develop these instruments.

In regard to extending the use of this surgical tool to other medical centers, the specialists confirmed that it is being validated at other European hospitals.

[Source: Eureka Alert! on behalf of Elhuyar Fundazioa]