One of the industries where technology is making a major impact is in the medical industry. Never before have we lived in an age where the cure for any illness is entirely possible.
These articles always fascinate me. I recently read an article on phys.org that discussed optimised hearing devices that feature fibre-optic technology.
Into the future
The article points out that groundbreaking technology for the transmission of acoustic signals, designed for use in fully implantable hearing aids, has been successfully tested for the first time.
The technology is based on completely contact-free fibre-optic technology, which senses the tiniest ossicle movements and uses them to stimulate the acoustic nerves. A joint Austrian-Serbian team including Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences, Austria, has now successfully tested this new innovation. The tests produced important findings on the future use of the technology on humans. The results were published in the international journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
The article adds that hearing aids should be heard, not seen. And this is precisely what fully surgically implantable hearing devices can deliver. Their Achilles heel is the microphones, which receive sounds and use a sophisticated process to transform them into impulses for the acoustic nerves. It is essential that they can function error-free inside the human body for many years. With existing technology, this is only possible to a limited extent, so new solutions are urgently needed. One such advance could be the use of fibre-optic measuring technology that picks up vibrations in the ossicles. Working in collaboration with counterparts from Serbia, an Austrian team, in which Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Krems, Austria, (KL Krems) is playing a decisive part, has now tested the technology under realistic conditions.
Speaking about the background to the latest breakthrough, Prof. Georg Mathias Sprinzl, head of the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at St Pölten University Hospital, which is part of KL Krems, told phys.org, “Even state-of-the-art hearing aids often require parts outside the ear. This has many disadvantages for people who wear hearing aids: they can be stigmatised if the device is visible, parts of the ear often become inflamed and the wearer’s own voice can sound distorted. Fully implantable hearing aids can overcome these problems – but the technology still needs to be fine-tuned. And that’s what we are working on.”
The article adds that one highly significant advance is the use of contact-free fibre-optic measuring technology to detect sounds, which would allow the microphone to be positioned inside the ear. The technology is based on low-coherence interferometry, a method which picks up superimposed sound waves. The team used this approach for the optical measurement of nanometre-sized ossicle vibrations. As Prof. Sprinzl explained: “The ability to pick up sound from the ossicles is a huge advantage because it fully preserves the natural amplification function of the outer ear and the eardrum. On the technological side, this also minimises signal distortion and feedback.”
The article adds that, however, with a view to deploying the system in the human ear, Prof. Sprinzl and his colleagues needed to address a number of fundamental requirements.
For example, they had to develop the operative procedure for the implantation, as well as the means of targeting the laser used for sensing.
Prof. Sprinzl, who performs over 1,000 implants of various types of hearing aid each year, told phys.org, “Obviously, we did not carry out this development work on people. Instead, we used artificial and animal models, which allowed us to optimise the quality of the ossicle vibration sensing system.”
The article adds that the recently published findings confirm the effectiveness of the technology and that, in principle, it could be used inside the ear for long periods. In these initial tests, the team found that the laser beam which is critical for sensing vibrations remained accurately aligned with the selected ossicle for five months. The team’s measurements also showed that the system can distinguish between the sounds to be transmitted and background noise, although more work will be required in this respect in future. Aspects such as, system miniaturisation and electricity consumption will also be addressed by the team, which comprises ACMIT GmbH, the Medical University of Vienna, the University of Belgrade, KL Krems and ENT specialists.
Obviously this will benefit a lot more people if countries around the world are open to the possibilities of embracing this technology. A recent article on emerging-europe.com shows that this is indeed the case.
With economic growth in Europe and Central Asia having peaked, following 2.7 per cent growth in 2017 and a projection of 2.3 per cent for 2018, countries in the region should take advantage of new digital technologies to innovate and improve their services, says a new World Bank report, Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain: Europe and Central Asia Economic Update.
The article points out that policymakers in the region will need to strike a balance between unleashing the full potential and curbing the hype around new technologies. At the same time, policies also need to support citizens in adjusting to increased flexibility in labour and product markets.
Among the new wave of technologies to emerge are blockchains – digital technologies that enable person-to-person transactions and information flows without the need for a trusted intermediary. The first applications of blockchain technology were cryptocurrencies, which create digital money without central banks and facilitate payments without financial institutions.
“Many countries in Europe and Central Asia have proven to be fertile ground for the development of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies,” said Hans Timmer, World Bank chief economist for Europe and Central Asia told emerging-europe.com. “In Georgia, for example, mining of cryptocurrencies is surprisingly widespread, driven largely by tax exemptions and low electricity prices. Going forward, it will be important for the government to ensure financial oversight and protection of consumers.”
The article points out that a multi-billion-dollar industry today, cryptocurrencies continue to evoke widely divergent views, says the report. The extreme volatility of cryptocurrency values raises doubt about their viability as an alternative to legal tender, while the increasingly high electricity costs associated with mining cryptocurrencies are cause for concern.
The underlying blockchain technology, however, is being adopted more broadly, with several governments in the region already experimenting with blockchains to digitise and streamline public services, in order to make them more secure, transparent, and efficient.
The article adds that in Ukraine, Estonia and Georgia, for example, governments are looking to set-up land and real-estate registries using blockchain technology. Azerbaijan is experimenting with digital IDs for banking, while Lithuania has opened a blockchain center to incubate start-ups. Switzerland aims to become a blockchain hub and is leading in adjusting regulations to these technologies.