The Department of Otolaryngology is among the international leaders in hearing research. Its range of research activities covers the causes, diagnosis and therapy of all kinds of hearing impairment. One particularly important field is the functional restoration of hearing using auditory implants. These include cochlear implants which replace the inner ear, central auditory implants in the midbrain and brainstem region (to treat neural deafness) and implantable hearing aids to correct conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Research here includes work on new electrodes to regenerate the inner ear, local pharmacotherapy for hearing impairment, development of new ossicular prostheses, and signal processing in the auditory system. Foundational to this work are physiological studies on the impact of hearing impairment on the development and function of the auditory system, including plasticity. With the Laboratories of Experimental Otology (LEO), the Institute of Audioneurotechnology (VIANNA) and the German Hearing Center Hannover (DHZ) – the facility for clinically related research and clinical studies in collaboration with industry – the Department of Otorhinolaryngology covers the entire innovation chain from basic research to translational and clinical research as well as product development. In collaboration with leading international manufacturers, this enables the findings of fundamental research to be implemented and utilised in novel methods. New types of cochlear implant electrode designed to preserve hearing in the partially deaf, the auditory midbrain implant and physiologically based speech-processing algorithms are worthy of mention here.
In clinical studies, products can then be directly tested as to their clinical value, including potential improvement. The basis for this is the world’s largest programme for implantable hearing devices (cochlear implants and implantable hearing aids) with a large number of patients. These activities have given rise to in-house innovations including modern speech-processing algorithms, non-invasive and invasive methods of audiometry.
The Department is also on the cutting edge of advances in modern surgical techniques. Computer- and robot-assisted surgery will make it possible, using active electrode systems, to carry out atraumatic insertion of stimulating electrodes and mechanical actuators in the region of the inner ear and the central auditory system. This includes novel techniques for stimulating the inner ear and the auditory systems on the basis of optoacoustics and laser technology. In tumour research, the Department is among the leading centres in the field of in vivo differentiation of tissue and cells, as well as laser-assisted targeted tissue removal. Within the field of paranasal sinus surgery, degradable stents are being developed allowing the sinus passages to be continuously aerated. Research is integrated into numerous research networks. These include the collaborative research centres SFG 599 on Biomedical Engineering (coordinator: Professor Th. Lenarz) and SFB Transregio 37 on ‘Micro- and nanosystems in medicine’, the cluster of excellence ‘Hearing and its disorders’ in conjunction with the University of Oldenburg, the EU project ‘NanoEar‘, the BMBF-funded collaborative research project ‘Seeing Scalpel‘ (‘Sehendes Skalpell’), the BMBF’s innovation competition on atraumatic CI electrodes, the BMBF project ‘Gentle CI’, the BMBF collaborative project Bernstein Focus Neurotechnology, the EFRE project HurDig and the BMBF collaborative project REMEDIS – ‘Higher quality of living through new types of microimplants’.