The European Union’s Horizon 2020 Future Emerging Technologies FET OPEN programme has awarded 3M€ to HearLight, a collaborative project coordinated by the Hearing Institute at Institut Pasteur (Paris, France).
Reuniting six European partners, including Swiss startup Novagan, HearLight aims a developing a new technology to restore audition for patients with impaired hearing.
Hearing loss affects almost half a billion people worldwide. For complete hearing loss, the only treatment currently is the cochlear implant, an electrical stimulator placed in the ear. Cochlear implants restore hearing in some patients, but with performance limitations that severely affect patients’ quality of life.
HearLight aims to boost precision in auditory rehabilitation strategies for a broad range of deafness indications using a radically new approach targeted to the brain rather than to the ear. It will combine Bioelectronics and Optogenetics technologies to apply precise stimulation patterns in the auditory cortex, a crucial brain area for auditory perception. To achieve this on the longer-term, one of HearLight’s aims is to develop thin, flexible and biocompatible electrode and LED arrays that one could slide within the circumvolutions of the human auditory cortex.
The other goal is to test different algorithms to transform sound information into brain stimulation patterns that can be perceived as precise sounds. If this brain-targeted restoration approach dramatically improves perception of the fine structure of sounds, as the project aims to demonstrate, it could provide a technology that significantly improves perception in treated patients giving access to hearing of music or conversations in a crowd, which are almost impossible with cochlear implants.
A dedicated website and social media strategy will inform the public and patient associations about the project. The consortium will also participate to relevant European events, “Open Science” national days and more.