Aculight has been awarded a contract under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme. The $850,000 two-phase fast-track award from the National Institutes of Health will fund a joint effort with the University of Washington to develop a laser-based vestibular implant.
‘Balance disorders such as vertigo and dizziness are among the most common reasons that elderly Americans seek heath care,’ said Mark Bendett, Aculight’s director of medical products.
Bendett added: ‘We’re laying the foundation for an optical implant that could treat patients with balance and vision impairments due to vestibular system damage. This SBIR will enable Aculight to produce a laser-based nerve stimulation device that can be used in research studies at the University of Washington prior to developing a model for clinical applications.’
The vestibular system is located within the inner ear, which is the body’s balance system. It sends signals to the muscles that keep us upright and to the neural structures that control our eye movements. Balance and vision impairments occur when the vestibular hair cells become damaged, prohibiting the transmission of sensory signals to the brain.
Currently, there are no clinically available treatment to restore the loss of sensory information. However, researchers believe that direct vestibular stimulation may alleviate symptoms in many patients. Infrared stimulation, in particular, could provide a precise, controlled, non-contact method of stimulating the nerve.
Bendett said: “We first developed our Capella infrared nerve stimulator to enable and encourage research applications. We’ve also received an SBIR award to develop the first optical cochlear implant. Now we’re working with two leading vestibular groups to develop an optical vestibular implant.’