Tissue-Engineered Cochlear Fibrosis Model Links Complex Impedance to Fibrosis Formation for Cochlear Implant Patients.
Cochlear implants are a life-changing technology for those with severe sensorineural hearing loss, partially restoring hearing through direct electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve. However, they are known to elicit an immune response resulting in fibrotic tissue formation in the cochlea that is linked to residual hearing loss and suboptimal outcomes. Intracochlear fibrosis is difficult to track without postmortem histology, and no specific electrical marker for fibrosis exists. In this study, a tissue-engineered model of cochlear fibrosis is developed following implant placement to examine the electrical characteristics associated with fibrotic tissue formation around electrodes. The model is characterized using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy and an increase in the resistance and a decrease in capacitance of the tissue using a representative circuit are found. This result informs a new marker of fibrosis progression over time that is extractable from voltage waveform responses, which can be directly measured in cochlear implant patients. This marker is tested in a small sample size of recently implanted cochlear implant patients, showing a significant increase over two postoperative timepoints. Using this system, complex impedance is demonstrated as a marker of fibrosis progression that is directly measurable from cochlear implants to enable real-time tracking of fibrosis formation in patients, creating opportunities for earlier treatment intervention to improve cochlear implant efficacy.