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Surgical procedures are increasingly planned and performed with the assistance of computers. This improves the process and reduces the duration of operations. At FH Campus Wien, methods are being researched to apply this concept to the insertion of cochlear implants.
Cochlear implants are tiny little hearing aids for the deaf whose hearing nerve is intact. They are inserted into the inner ear and transform acoustic signals into electrical impulses. These impulses are perceived as auditory sensations. The insertion of cochlear implants is a surgical challenge: Not only are the implants very tiny, but in order to insert them, the surgeon must also pierce the hardest skull bone of the human body, the temporal bone, without damaging vessels and nerve structures.
Researchers at FH Campus Wien have succeeded in facilitating the planning and implementation of cochlear implants through 3D modeling. Instead of fitting the implants during the operation as it has been done in the past, they can now be fitted during the planning and preparation before the operation. “We have found a way to make customized 3D models of the patient’s inner ear. They are created by means of rapid prototyping based on the data from imaging examinations, in particular computer tomography. Based on these 3D models, the surgeon can study the individual anatomical situation of the patient in advance, simulate the procedure, and precisely fit the implant before the actual operation,” says project manager Godoberto Guevara Rojas. “One of the biggest challenges is to faithfully reproduce the tiny structures in cochlear implants. In addition, one has to know which materials are suitable for the modeling,” explains the radiology technologist and doctor of medical engineering. Therefore, when developing the 3D models, Guevara works closely with the colleagues from the field of High Tech Manufacturing at FH Campus Wien and with medical doctors from the Medical University of Vienna.
Thanks to the research at FH Campus Wien, the insertion of cochlear implants can be performed in the future more gently and in less time than ever before. Up till now, the improved surgical procedure has only been used sporadically in Austrian university clinics and especially in more complex cases, e.g. in special anatomical situations.
Surgeons and radiology technologists work together to plan the 3D models. These 3d models make the preparation and surgical procedure easier and make precise implantations possible. The tailor-made implants make operations easier to plan and the results achieved can be better optimized. They are also very helpful during patient consultations as the tailor-made 3D models enable patients to be better informed and prepared for their surgery.