New study tests vestibular prosthesis to help restore balance for people with Meniere's disease

Many disorders of the inner hear which affect both hearing and balance can be hugely debilitating and are currently largely incurable. Cochlear implants have been used for many years to replace lost hearing resulting from inner ear damage. However, to date, there has not been an analogous treatment for balance disorders resulting from inner ear disease. One potential new treatment is an implantable vestibular prosthesis which would directly activate the vestibular nerve by electrical stimulation. This prosthetic treatment is tested in a new study by Christopher Phillips and his colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. Their findings are published in the Springer journal Experimental Brain Research.

Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance to varying degrees. The characteristic symptoms are episodes of vertigo, tinnitus, a feeling of pressure in the ears and hearing loss which tends to worsen as time goes on. Although there is medication which can help once an attack is underway, there is currently no long-term therapy which can resolve the disease completely.

Phillips and his colleagues have developed a vestibular prosthesis which delivers electrical stimulation to the fluid inside the semi-circular canals of the ear. In effect, the stimulation of the fluid makes the brain believe that the body is moving or swaying in a certain direction. This then causes a compensatory postural reflex to stabilize the posture thereby helping to restore balance.

For their study, this prosthesis was inserted into the ears of four subjects all suffering from long-term Meniere's disease and differing degrees of hearing loss which was resistant to other management strategies. After a full evaluation of each participant's vestibular function, their eye function was measured in response to electrical stimulation along with their postural response both with their eyes open and closed.

The researchers found that electrical stimulation of the fluid in the semicircular canals of the affected ear did result in a change in posture, the direction of which was dependent on which ear was stimulated. However, each subject had different sway responses to the stimulation given. The authors believe this could be caused by small differences in the location of the electrode between subjects. Thus fine tuning and individual calibration for each electrode implant would be required for it to be effective.

Overall the results illustrate that this type of prosthesis may eventually be a possible treatment for balance issues caused by Meniere's disease. However, there are a large number of matters which would need resolving before it is ready for use. The lack of consistency in direction and magnitude of sway response would require further study to ensure that any prosthesis developed could give reliable results for different individuals.

The authors conclude: "Taken together, our findings support the feasibility of a vestibular prosthesis for the control of balance and illustrate new challenges for the development of this technology. This study is a first step in that direction."



  1. katerina stefanova katerina stefanova United Kingdom says:

    Yes, I believe people tried a lot to treat this debilitating illness. As all in you have a cause, in me the cause is the anaerobic resistant bacteria. Now in the stage of two tinnitus and vertigo,pressure in ears,sensitivity to noise and losing hearing, medication does not work and from experience of others with different treatments I can learn that Menieres can not be treated, maybe eleviting the symptoms for some time. I tried for example high dosage of low level laser therapy for tinnitus and Menieres in Germany for stopping the vetrigo. The high dosage of LLLT works on the tinnituses induce by acoustic trauma, virus and resistant bacteria. After the few days of the high dosage of LLLT I went through side effects, but the vertigo stopped, tinnituses by time with a home laser went down. But you have to carry on with the high dosage to kill the anaerobic bacteria persistantly. Having one kind of antibiotics which I was sensitive to it lead  my Menieres to be out of control.Unfortunatelly the high dosage of LLLT is not available in the UK, so I have to for financila reasons look for something in the UK where we live. If the Implatable vestibular prosthetis works on vertigoes, then it is amazing news for us menierest. Question is how to access the treatment and how much it will cost?  Katerina

    • Go Tobann Go Tobann Ireland says:

      How did you obtain such an accurate diagnosis? I thought they couldnt test for bacteria in the inner ear? Have you heard about Orthokine?

      • katerina stefanova katerina stefanova United Kingdom says:

        yes you are right. There is no test for bacteria in the inner ear. There is no also test for virus in the inner ear for us alived either. Why gentamicine injection for innere ear for menieres then? it is bacterial and antibiotic does not work for virus. At the end the ears are close to teeth and jaw. Imaging that  after the dental work you finish with tinnitus. The antibiotic does not work. And later the tinnitus progress into menieres int the same ear. Imaging that after the tooth extraction the infection can spread further in the bone ( sculp). If you have amalgams in mouth the banch of bacterias can be resistant ( research based info). Will the antibioitic help such antibioitic after the tooth extraction? The question is why for some the gentamicin injection help and some not if gentamicin is antibacterial? Maybe is good to look ate what bunch of bacterias aerobic and anaerobic are there in that bone/ear and what for is the gentamicin? katerina

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