Engineers to Implant Antivertigo Device

Photo Credit: Cochlear

Vestibular prosthesis is a pacemaker for the inner ear

Tomorrow, 21 October, a surgeon will attempt to fight debilitating vertigo by rewiring the body’s balance center. Jay Rubinstein, a surgeon and biomedical engineer at the University of Washington, in Seattle, will insert a “vestibular prosthesis” inside his patient’s head, weaving electrode arrays into the depths of the inner ear. He hopes that pulses from these electrodes will stop vomit-inducing dizziness caused by Ménière’s disease.

“When a Ménière’s attack occurs, you basically have to lie down and curl up into a ball,” Rubinstein says. “It’s not very conducive to a productive existence if these are happening once a week.” For most, diet changes and diuretics can stop the attacks by lowering inner ear pressure, but about 15 percent of patients require surgery to decrease the sensitivity of the inner ear—and the most severe cases require disconnecting nerves to the inner ear altogether.

“If the alternative is to go in and kill your ear,” says James Phillips, a vestibular neurophysiologist at the University of Washington who developed the device with Rubinstein, “then maybe it makes sense to provide a prosthesis.” Read More