The world’s first recipient of a bone conduction implant celebrates 40 years of hearing

News from Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions

Mona Andersson had suffered from hearing loss for more than 30 years before she could hear again. In 1977, thanks to a medical innovation developed in Gothenburg, her hearing capacity was dramatically improved. Today, forty years later, 150, 000 people have regained their hearing with a bone conduction implant.

img_3561(Photo: Anders Tjellström and Mona Andersson)

Hearing loss is a major public health issue and its impact is set to increase. More than 360 million people live with disabling hearing loss and this figure is set to increase significantly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there will be 1.2 billion people living with disabling hearing loss in 2050. Every year on March 3, WHO celebrates the World Hearing Day, an advocacy event that calls for international action to address hearing loss. This year’s event campaign “Make a sound investment” reveals that unaddressed hearing loss costs the global economy a staggering $750 billion annually.

In Sweden alone, about 1.4 million people suffer from hearing impairment, of which 700, 000 need to use hearing aids, according to Hörselskadades Riksförbund, the National Association for Hearing Impairment in Sweden.

Forty years ago, an innovation from Gothenburg created a new industry that was set to restore hearing in many people affected by hearing impairment. Gothenburg resident Mona Andersson was one of those people.

The innovation is based on the concept of osseointegration, a process discovered and coined by Professor Per-Ingvar Brånemark, when in Gothenburg in the 1960s, he serendipitously discovered that titanium completely fused with bone. The discovery of osseointegration led to the development of the bone conduction hearing implant, pioneered by Anders Tjellström, surgeon and Senior Lecturer at Gothenburg University and member of Brånemark’s research team, in collaboration with Bo Håkansson, Professor at Chalmers Institute.

Already in early childhood, Mona was suffering from bilateral chronic ear infections, caused by scarlet fever. Her natural capacity to hear had dropped dramatically and it was not long before she had serious problems with her hearing. At the age of 15, Mona received her first hearing aid, which improved her hearing slightly, at the cost of constant headaches and embarrassment. When she started working at a plastic factory, she realised that exposure to warm temperatures affected her hearing even more.

She reached a turning point in 1965 when she became a mother.

“I struggled to communicate with my daughter in the first years of her life. I had nothing to lose when I accepted Dr. Tjellström’s proposal to receive a bone conduction implant”, says Mona.

In 1977, Mona underwent the world’s first bone conduction implant surgery, performed by Dr Anders Tjellström at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. The implant was specifically designed for patients affected by conductive hearing loss, like Mona. Today its application has increased to treat other types of hearing loss.

“For the first time since childhood I could hear birds singing”, she told Dr. Tjellström when she received her implant. Sounds like the buzz of a fly or ice cubes clinking in a glass, suddenly became new experiences for her.

Forty years after the surgery, Mona celebrates not only functional hearing, but hearing capacity that has gone beyond what most “normal hearing” people can experience. The latest technology, developed in Gothenburg by Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions, allows the recipients of a bone conduction implant to stream sound from their phones directly to their ears.

“Bone conduction technology has come a long way. Today, Mona is using a sound processor that has the capacity to adapt to different noise environments, something we had never imagined possible all those years ago”, explains Dr. Tjellström.

More than 150, 000 people worldwide benefit from Gothenburg invention

The bone conduction implant system was approved in Sweden ten years after Mona received her implant. In 1993, the Gothenburg-based Nobel Pharma, whose bone conduction business later became Entific, started commercializing the product. In 2005, international hearing implant manufacturer Cochlear Ltd bought Entific and named it Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions, based in Mölnlycke. Today, more than 150, 000 people hear thanks to a bone conduction implant.

“We created the world’s smallest sound processor that is also the first ever to connect wirelessly to electronic devices, allowing users to stream sound directly to the ear. Gothenburg is a unique centre of innovation, where we can benefit from all the expertise, technology, and research of the region, helping us to constantly evolve our industry”, says Rom Mendel, President Acoustics & Managing Director at Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions.

Most hearing specialists agree that bone conduction hearing systems are an effective solution for patients with conductive hearing loss, mixed hearing loss or single-sided deafness.

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