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More than 5% of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss and for many, their condition is too severe for hearing aids to be effective. Advancements in medical device technology mean that these patients now have more options when it comes to surgical treatment, including cochlear, bone-anchored, middle ear, and auditory brainstem implants. Cochlear devices are the most common implants used for inner ear surgery.

According to GlobalData analysis, the hearing implants market was worth nearly $1.5B in 2019 and is expected to grow to $2.1B by 2028. As these devices grow in demand and complexity, manufacturers are under increasing pressure to design and develop specialised components.

Alleima, formerly Sandvik Materials Technology, partners with medical device manufacturers to produce ultra-fine medical wire and medical wire components that are perfectly calibrated for cochlear remediation. These fine wire and wire-based components are branded Exera® and have been used in middle ear implants, bone conduction systems, and cochlear implants across the globe.

Reliable transmitters for cochlear implants

A cochlear implant is a medical device that stimulates the damaged portions of a patient’s inner ear to deliver sound signals to the brain. These implants work very differently from a hearing aid. While hearing aids amplify sounds so that damaged ears can detect them, cochlear implants bypass any damaged sections of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve.

Cochlear implants are comprised of a microphone, a transmitter, a speech processor, and an electrode array. When sound is received by the microphone it is transmitted to the speech processor, which converts the sound energy into a numerical code to be transferred to the internal receiver via the headpiece. These receivers are connected to an electrode implanted in the cochlear, which directly stimulates the auditory nerves.

Exera®medical wire plays a vital role as the transmitter in these devices. Manufacturers approach Alleima with specifications for what they want their device to achieve, and the development team works with them to suggest and provide the appropriate materials, customisations, and coatings. The exact design will differ depending on the customer’s end-goal, but Exera® wire is always ultra-fine and of the highest quality to ensure reliable transmission.

For implantable cochlear devices, commonly used configurations are Gold, Platinum or the Exera®Pt10Ir and Exera® Pt20Ir wire, which are Platinum Iridium alloys that offer biocompatibility, radiopacity, moderate strength and good formability properties, as well as a medical-class surface finish for maximum fatigue resistance, which is especially important for devices that are expected to last for a lifetime. Precision wire for telemetry coils also increase fatigue strength for cochlear implants and critical electrodes. In addition, Alleima offers a range of coatings suitable for cochlear implants, including PTFE, Polyester, Polyphenylsulfone, Polyimide and Epoxy.

Life-changing impact of cochlear implants

Cochlear implants that utilise Exera® medical wire have changed the lives of patients around the world, including Katherine, who began wearing hearing aids in 1994 when a gradual loss of hearing left her nearly completely deaf. After her daughter encouraged her to get a cochlear implant, Katherine underwent surgery and never looked back. For Jacob Johanen, cochlear implants enabled him to pursue a new career, and even hear his wife’s voice for the first time.

For more information about Exera®fine medical wire-components, including available materials and surface treatments, download the white paper below.