Ancient insect provides inspiration for new hearing aid
10 July 2017
10 July 2017
Inspired by the hearing system of an insect that’s barely evolved since dinosaurs walked the Earth, a two-person medtech start-up is developing a new hearing technology that could help millions of profoundly deaf people around the world.
Co-founder Dr Kate Lomas examined the structure and function of the auditory system of the Auckland tree weta for her PhD, and discovered a new structure within the insect that had never been described.
“Kate’s studies have focused on insect acoustics, how they process sound waves and how that could be adapted to assist human hearing,” co-founder Dr Liz Williams says.
Kate and Liz are using this knowledge to redevelop the cochlear hearing implant, one of Australia’s most celebrated inventions. They aim to retain Australia’s reputation as a world leading technology provider for the profoundly deaf.
Liz says the current cochlear implant is made up of four components – two of which are external – and requires complex, expensive surgery. The two external components are delicate and can be limiting to a user’s lifestyle.
The Hemideina system is made up of an in-ear bud that sits within the ear canal, which should free users from the lifestyle limitations of the current cochlear hearing device. Hemideina expects their device to be delivered at lower cost to make it more accessible.
Liz and Kate were surprised to learn that only 2% of people around the world who need a cochlear implant actually have one.
“We’re amazed at how few people have the cochlear implant given it’s been around for 40 years,” she says. “We hope we’ll be able to help more people who are profoundly deaf to hear.”
Hemideina have a prototype of their device but still have several more years of development before progressing to clinical trials. It works by directly converting sound waves into electrical signals using their proprietary materials within the in-ear bud. They are currently in the process of raising funds from investors to continue developing their device and are doing so through crowdfunding platform Seedly.
Griffith Hack proudly sponsors the MedTech’s Got Talent competition, providing IP advice to the finalists and winners. As part of this year’s prize, Principal Dr Andrew Morton drafted and filed a provisional patent for Hemideina relating to the hearing enabling technology of their device.
Liz said protecting intellectual property with a patent was hugely important for an early-stage start-up company like Hemideina.
“It shows investors that we have an asset that they can invest in,” she says, noting that the cochlear implant market is worth $1.8 billion a year, despite only serving 2% of the profoundly deaf population.