by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
On September 14, 2012, two people in Holland were implanted with a new kind of vestibular (balance) implant—one that generates orientation and acceleration signals to replace the balance signals that dead or non-functioning hair cells in the semicircular canals of the inner ear used to produce.
Although it is too soon to know how well such implants will work, so far, preliminary results look positive.
Researchers are hoping that the brain will learn to integrate the signals from the balance implants with the existing balance signals it receives from the eyes and proprioceptive systems.
If the implants ultimately prove to be successful, they will give balance (to some degree or other) back to people whose vestibular (balance) systems were destroyed by drugs or diseases such as Meniere’s Disease.
Vestibular implants are still in their infancy—where cochlear implants were back about 30 years ago. Over the past 30 years, there have been tremendous strides in how well cochlear implants work. I have no reason to believe that vestibular implants won’t do the same in the future.