Patricia Stahn, Hubert H. Lim, Marius P. Hinsberger, Katharina Sorg, Lukas Pillong, Marc Kannengießer, Cathleen Schreiter, Hans-Jochen Foth, Achim Langenbucher, Bernhard Schick & Gentiana I. Wenzel

Scientific Reportsvolume 9, Article number: 4171 (2019)

Hearing impairment is one of the most common sensory deficits in humans. Hearing aids are helpful to patients but can have poor sound quality or transmission due to insufficient output or acoustic feedback, such as for high frequencies. Implantable devices partially overcome these issues but require surgery with limited locations for device attachment. Here, we investigate a new optoacoustic approach to vibrate the hearing organ with laser stimulation to improve frequency bandwidth, not requiring attachment to specific vibratory structures, and potentially reduce acoustic feedback. We developed a laser pulse modulation strategy and simulated its response at the umbo (1–10 kHz) based on a convolution-based model. We achieved frequency-specific activation in which non-contact laser stimulation of the umbo, as well as within the middle ear at the round window and otic capsule, induced precise shifts in the maximal vibratory response of the umbo and neural activation within the inferior colliculus of guinea pigs, corresponding to the targeted, modelled and then stimulated frequency. There was also no acoustic feedback detected from laser stimulation with our experimental setup. These findings open up the potential for using a convolution-based optoacoustic approach as a new type of laser hearing aid or middle ear implant.