Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Boston United States
Military personnel are exposed to hostile combat environments that cause injury to the vestibular system. The resulting deficits can drastically affect productivity, independence and quality of life. Currently, researchers are developing a range of treatment strategies for these deficits. Electrical stimulation using a vestibular implant has been proposed as a treatment option for patients who sustain significant peripheral vestibular injury that results in chronic imbalance 1-7. While the vestibular implant has the potential to restore some functional capabilities, the effectiveness of electrical stimulation is limited by nonselective activation of surrounding nerves crosstalk or current spread. A recent paradigm shift in neural stimulation is being developed by Aculight and collaborating researchers based on the use of pulsed infrared light 8-15. Infrared nerve stimulation INS has the potential to revolutionize the field of sensory replacement neuroprostheses. When applied to the vestibular system, INS or INS-electrical hybrid prostheses will substantially reduce the channel crosstalk compared to conventional electrical prostheses. In addition, they can be made minimally invasive with the use of tiny optical fibers. Development of INS-based vestibular prosthesis technology will improve the quality of life of military personnel suffering from chronic vestibular dysfunction manifested as severe dizziness, ataxia, or chronic vertigo. Our primary objective is to conduct fundamental research that will lay the foundation for development of an effective implantable vestibular prosthesis based on an infrared nerve stimulation and balance sensor technology.