▪ TOTALLY IMPLANTABLE COCHLEAR IMPLANT COMING
Clinical trials of a totally implantable cochlear implant are scheduled to begin next year in Europe. The device was developed by Epic Biosonics, Inc., of Victoria, British Columbia, and will be distributed by Med-El Medical Electronics of Innsbruck, Austria, under a 15-year licensing agreement between the two companies.
Most cochlear implant manufacturers are trying to develop a system that has no external electronic components. But the recent announcement by Epic suggests that the Epic/Med-El product will be the first totally implantable to reach the market.
The implant, which has an ultra-thin profile, consists of a microphone located in the ear canal, a hermetically sealed package encapsulating a speech processor, a tiny rechargeable battery, an on-off switch on the housing top, and an electrode array inserted in the cochlea. Since the electronics are all inside the head, wearers will be able to participate in activities such as swimming and showering and still be able to hear.
The user recharges the battery by wearing a small external recharger for less than an hour a day. The recharger attaches to the head in the same manner as the external portion of a conventional cochlear implant.
Under its agreement with Med-El, Epic will manufacture six parts of the eight-component system using a number of patented technologies and processes. Med-El, the second largest implant maker after the Australian-based Cochlear, will add the electronics and seal the system.
Peter Baillie, CEO of Epic, said that the system is on track to begin U.S. clinical trials in early 2004. Clearance by the Food and Drug Administration will be required before it can be sold in the U.S.
Among the challenges that Epic faced in designing the system was to minimize the chance of malfunction, since any repairs would require surgery. For this reason, the system has minimal interconnections between parts, where problems are most likely to occur. Baillie said that the system also contains an exceptionally safe and durable rechargeable battery, which has been licensed to Epic by Oak Ridge [TN] Laboratories.
▪ ELECTRONIC DATA INTERCHANGE MEETING SLATED
The Hearing Industries Association (HIA) will sponsor a 1-day Summit on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). The session will be held on March 20 at the Hotel Sofitel in Bloomington, MN.
David Woodbury, HIA's director of government relations, noted that many people in the industry are working on different aspects of EDI. By gathering everyone together, HIA hopes that stakeholders will share information and move toward standardizing EDI systems. Woodbury noted that standardization can save both manufacturers and dispensers much time and money and reduce errors.
Participants at the summit will include hearing aid manufacturers, hearing health software providers, and representatives of the dispensing community, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and other large buying groups. The agenda will include a progress report on standardization efforts and presentations by manufacturers, HIMSA, the VA, and others on efforts to develop solutions.
This month's summit is the latest in a series of meetings held by HIA over the past 18 months on issues related to electronic data transfer throughout the hearing product supply chain. Participants have included hearing healthcare professional organizations, the VA, information technology experts, and representatives of standard-making bodies, with the goal of defining consensus initiatives that will reduce the overall transaction costs of delivering hearing care.
Rob Duchscher, director of software at Starkey Laboratories and a member of the HIA task force on EDI, pointed out some areas where industrywide standardization has potential benefits. Among these are order forms, bar coding, and digitization of hearing aid impressions.
All interested parties in the hearing health field are invited to attend the meeting in Bloomington. There is a registration fee of $125. For further information, contact David Woodbury at 703/684-5744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
▪ CANADIANS GET HEARING HEALTH MESSAGE
The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) has launched an ambitious 3-year media campaign intended to make people “think differently about hearing loss and deafness.” As the non-profit organization explains on its web site (www.chs.ca), “The negative stereotypes that deaf people face can be summed up in the regrettable cliché ‘deaf and dumb.’ We think it's about time people realized that deaf people can do anything a hearing person can do, except hear!”
Begun last October and scheduled to extend through June 2003, the CHS campaign is reminiscent of the public service announcements that the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) used to run in the U.S. and Canada. However, the CHS campaign consists primarily of paid advertising. The professionally produced ads have been running on several television stations in Ontario and in the Ontario editions of five magazines popular in Canada: Canadian Living, Maclean's, Reader's Digest, and two business journals. Also, unlike the BHI program, which was paid for primarily by hearing care companies with the hope of increasing hearing aid sales, CHS has broader goals.
Susan Main, director of marketing and communications at CHS, explained that the campaign's objective is nothing short of “changing attitudes toward hearing loss.” She said, “We are trying to reach people who make decisions, especially employment decisions.”
Deaf, but not dumb''
The campaign includes two series of print and television ads. One series features active young and middle-aged people talking about themselves. For example, one man says, “I'm a master welder. I'm a scuba diver. I'm an entrepreneur.” And a woman states, “I'm a teacher. I'm a counsellor. I'm a soccer mom.” Both then conclude, “I'm deaf. But I'm definitely not dumb.”
The other series of print ads and 15-second TV spots shows a variety of attractive people and carries the message “I wear earware. For the hard of hearing not the hard of living.” That's followed by “We'd like to hear from you. The Canadian Hearing Society www.chs.ca, toll-free 877/347-3427, tty 877/347-3429.”
Main said that the board of CHS “felt we had a responsibility to get this message out.” The campaign represents “a major commitment,” she said. Although she did not specify the cost, she said that it was less than $1 million U.S., but over a million Canadian dollars.
Response has been extremely positive, Main said. Hearing-impaired consumers “feel validated” by the message. The campaign has generated e-mail from all over Canada and beyond and has also led to an increase for CHS in donations and volunteers.
Based in Toronto, CHS provides many services, including clinical care, to deaf and hard-of-hearing Ontario residents. It also provides more limited services to people in the rest of Canada. The society is a private organization, supported largely by donations and revenues from products and services provided by its clinics. It also receives some public funding, primarily from the provincial government.
Representatives of CHS were scheduled to report on their program at the annual meeting of the Hearing Industries Association on March 1.
▪ DEMANT BUYS AUDIOMETER COMPANY
The Danish-based William Demant Group has added Tremetrics, a manufacturer of audiometers and other diagnostic equipment, to its hearing healthcare company holdings. Other Demant companies include Oticon, Bernafon, Maico Diagnostics, Interacoustics, and Phonic Ear.
Before being purchased by Demant on December 31 for an undisclosed price, Tremetrics was a division of ThermoQuest Corporation of Austin, TX. It is being moved to Minneapolis, where, effective March 1, all manufacturing, sales, service, and warranty issues will be handled.
Ron Perlt, who was named vice-president of Tremetrics, said that the purchase puts the William Demant Group companies “on track to reach their long-term strategic direction, which is to provide the most strategic, comprehensive line of products in the audiometric field.” Specifically, he said, Tremetrics is the U.S. leader in the manufacture of audiometers for the occupational health field, so the purchase strengthens the Demant Group's position in that area. Under the new ownership, Tremetrics will continue to function as a separate unit and its name and product line will be maintained.
▪ PHONAK TO BE SOLE DISTRIBUTOR FOR DURACELL
Duracell has reached an agreement with Phonak, Inc. giving it exclusive rights to distribute the Duracell® Activair® line of hearing aid batteries to hearing professionals in the U.S. and Canada. Although hearing aid battery makers, including Duracell, have long used hearing aid manufacturers as one means to distribute their products to practitioners, this is believed to be the first time that a single hearing aid company has been given exclusive distribution rights in this country. (Such arrangements do exist in some European countries.)
Russ MacDonald, sales director for the Duracell professional products group, said that he hopes the new distribution system will increase his company's share of the business. He said that while Activair is the top-selling brand in drug stores and other retail outlets, it has lagged behind Rayovac, the industry leader, in sales by hearing healthcare offices. MacDonald noted that the two hearing aid companies that had been distributing Activair were also promoting private-label batteries. Phonak, on the other hand, is distributing only the Duracell brand.
Michael Jones, president of Phonak, Inc., sees distributing batteries as a way of becoming “more of a full-service house” as well as providing a new source of revenues. He also said that there are potential cross-benefits from adding batteries to Phonak's offerings. Dispensers who buy hearing aids from Phonak (or Unitron, which will also distribute Activair batteries) may order batteries from the company as well, and vice-versa. In addition, Jones pointed to Activair's EasyTab™ feature, which helps people with reduced dexterity insert their hearing aid batteries, as another reason his company wanted to distribute for Duracell.
▪ GENE IDENTIFIED FOR LOW-FREQUENCY HEARING LOSS
An international research team, led by University of Michigan Medical School scientists Marci Lesperance, MD, and Margit Burmeister, PhD, has reported the discovery of a gene responsible for low-frequency sensorineural hearing loss, an unusual type of hearing impairment.
Researchers found that children who inherit one copy of the mutated gene WFS1 gradually lose their ability to hear low-frequency sounds. The condition becomes more severe over time, and eventually hearing aids are required. Patients with different types of mutations affecting both copies of the gene develop Wolfram Syndrome 1, a rare, devastating condition involving juvenile diabetes, optic atrophy, and often deafness and psychiatric illness.
Lesperance said, “Discovering a new gene and its related protein gives scientists another piece of information to increase their understanding of inner ear development and function.”
One of the most challenging aspects of the study was locating families with this type of hearing loss. Lesperance explained, “People who can't hear low-frequency sounds may not be aware of it, because their ability to understand speech isn't affected.” Therefore, she said, “It's possible that this type of hearing loss is more common than we think.”
Lesperance believes there may be a connection between mutations in WFS1 and the far more common condition of progressive high-frequency hearing loss.
Results of the study appeared in the October 22, 2001 issue of Human Molecular Genetics.
© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.