Ougazzaden and Collaborators Awarded ANR Grant for Optically Stimulated Cochlear Implants

The French National Research Agency has awarded a grant to Georgia Tech and Georgia Tech-Lorraine researchers to develop technology for a new class of cochlear implants.

For individuals suffering from hearing loss, good news may be on the horizon thanks to cutting-edge optical technology. The French National Research Agency (ANR) has awarded Abdallah Ougazzaden, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech and president of Georgia Tech-Lorraine, a €560,000 ($560,700) grant to develop technology for a new class of cochlear implants that may be able to restore hearing for patients.

The project aims to create optically stimulated, reduced-size, high-density cochlear implants with removable LEDs (CORTIORGAN). Project collaborators include Jean-Paul Salvestrini, director of the Georgia Tech-CNRS IRL 2958 lab and adjunct lecturer in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); Paul Voss, associate professor in ECE; and Suresh Sundaram, adjunct lecturer in ECE.

“CORTIORGAN is taking the technology for cochlear implants in a completely new direction through the optical stimulation of the cochlea with compact, dense, and highly flexible LED implants,” Ougazzaden said. “In particular, we will use a new semiconductor material – a two-dimensional hexagonal boron nitride – that brings about a radical rethinking of existing methods for processing inorganic LED devices.”

The key technology is based on optogenetics, a groundbreaking biological technique that stimulates neurons and other cells with light. The technology has a range of medical and neuroscience applications, including sight recovery and blocking pain signals.

The researchers will use optogenetic methods to achieve optical stimulation of auditory nerves rather than traditional electrical stimulation. Because tissue inside the cochlea has high electrical conductivity, optical stimulation of nerves can result in better spatial resolution and thus better implants. 

CORTIORGAN’s goal is to develop removable ultra-thin LEDs that can be packaged in cochlear implants. The novel process allows the researchers to achieve size and flexibility requirements for cochlear implants that will be inserted into mouse cochlea and tested at the end of the project.

“This innovation will have a strong positive impact on the hearing-impaired by offering them an optical implant with greater spatial resolution and higher sound reproduction fidelity in comparison to existing electrical stimulation technology,” Ougazzaden added. “This optical technology will open the door for future neuroscience applications with many opportunities for commercialization.”

Other partners include Institut Pasteur, a renowned Paris-based center for biomedical research, and the Center for Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies (C2N), a collaboration between the University of Paris-Saclay and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).


Writer: Catherine Barzler