MGH and Mass Eye and Ear Make History with Auditory Brainstem Implant Surgery

    A team of surgeons, audiologists and nurses from the MGH and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary recently performed an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) on a 16-month-old patient – the youngest person in the U.S. to receive the device.

    Unlike a hearing aid or a cochlear implant – which bypasses the outer, middle, inner ears and the auditory nerve – the ABI electrode is placed on the surface of the brain responsible for hearing. The infant’s surgery, which took place at the MGH on Oct. 8, is part of an FDA-approved ABI clinical trial studying how the device affects quality of life in deaf children.

    “We are optimistic that this approach can take advantage of the extraordinary capacity of the brains of young children to learn and adapt to their environments,” says Ann-Christine Duhaime, MD, director of MassGeneral Hospital for Children Pediatric Neurosurgery, who performed the surgery, along with MGH neurosurgeon Frederick Barker, MD. “Their plasticity is a real advantage at this age, and we are very happy to be able to explore this option to restore hearing for these children.”

    The infant, who was born deaf due to undersized inner ears, is recovering at home prior to the activation of the device later this month. “We hope that the ABI provides meaningful sound and speech awareness in this child. Outcome data from Europe suggest that the ABI can support oral language development, especially in those children who are normal neurologically and received the implant at a young age,” says Daniel Lee, MD, FACS, director of the Wilson ABI Program at Mass Eye and Ear, who is leading the clinical trial.

    illustration by Mark Summers
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