An Instrumented Cochlea Model for the Evaluation of Cochlear Implant Electrical Stimulus Spread.


Cochlear implants use electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve to restore the sensation of hearing to deaf people. Unfortunately, the stimulation current spreads extensively within the cochlea, resulting in "blurring" of the signal, and hearing that is far from normal. Current spread can be indirectly measured using the implant electrodes for both stimulating and sensing, but this provides incomplete information near the stimulating electrode due to electrode-electrolyte interface effects. Here, we present a 3D-printed "unwrapped" physical cochlea model with integrated sensing wires. We integrate resistors into the walls of the model to simulate current spread through the cochlear bony wall, and "tune" these resistances by calibration with an in-vivo electrical measurement from a cochlear implant patient. We then use this model to compare electrical current spread under different stimulation modes including monopolar, bipolar and tripolar configurations. Importantly, a trade-off is observed between stimulation amplitude and current focusing among different stimulation modes. By combining different stimulation modes and changing intracochlear current sinking configurations in the model, we explore this trade-off between stimulation amplitude and focusing further. These results will inform clinical strategies for use in delivering speech signals to cochlear implant patients.