Happy 10th birthday, Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions!

Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden

Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden

The month of March 2015 marks 10 years since Cochlear acquired the Swedish company Entific Medical AB. For a decade now, Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions has been providing people all over the world with bone conduction hearing implants.

It all started with the innovative idea to use the body’s natural ability to transfer sound.

Entific Medical was founded in 1999 as a spin-off of the Swedish dental implant company Nobel Biocare. The new company focused on their innovative, implantable bone conduction hearing solution, the Baha System, which is also based on professor Brånemark’s discovery of osseointegration.

In 2005, Cochlear, the world’s leading cochlear implant company, recognised the potential of this innovation. They acquired Entific and established a new company called Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions.

Cochlear was and is committed to bringing the latest cutting edge hearing technologies to the bone conduction implant field to help more people hear. In 2005, this meant they needed to invest fully in the company. Invest in the right people, the right prerequisites and the right place to do it.

Within a year the company with about 60 employees had moved to a new, larger facility in Mölnlycke, outside Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast, with plenty of room for the manufacturing and R&D departments to grow. Today, more than 200 people work at Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions – and the company has no plans to move.

“Gothenburg has all we need,” says Anthony Manna, President of Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions. “It has a unique combination of research and collaborations in relevant areas for Cochlear such as implant technology, sound vibrations and clinical studies. It would not make sense for us to move.”

During these 10 years, these innovations have helped more people to hear than ever before – growing the number of people who use a Baha solution from 25,000 to more than 110,000.

cochlear-celebration-2013

Living with hearing loss has more implications than just not being able to hear sounds. Social isolation is an important factor as many hearing impaired people shy away from social functions like going to a party or having dinner in busy restaurants because they can’t keep up with the conversations. For many, many Baha recipients, getting their bone conduction solution means not only restoring a sense – but restoring their life.

Julie, Baha user, UK

Julie, Baha user, UK

As Baha user Julie puts it:

“Before it felt like I was living life behind a glass door, watching other people interacting with each other. Now, when I switch the Baha sound processor on in the morning it’s like I’m back in the real world again. I can hear.”

And that’s really what it’s all about.

In memoriam: Professor Brånemark’s collaborators remember his work

In December 2014, Professor Per-Ingvar Brånemark passed away at the age of 85.

Professor Brånemark is generally considered the father of osseointegration. He coined the term in the 1960s during studies in bone rheology and defined it as the direct contact between a titanium implant and living bone tissue.

The first clinical application of titanium implants was in oral surgery, where they continue to be used today to anchor dental prosthesis. For the now millions of patients around the world, dental implants have offered a completely new life of being able to chew, swallow, speak and smile.

Discovery of a lifetime

How these dental implants led to the first bone conduction hearing implant is a story of serendipity. In the early days, Brånemark was looking to evaluate how well the titanium implant had fused with the bone. In this process, he tried a new acoustic method of measurement where he put a bone vibrator on a patient with a dental implant. When the vibrator started, the man was quite startled to hear a very loud sound coming from the vibrator, as he suffered from hearing loss and did not expect to hear so well. An amazing new discovery was born – a bone-anchored implant could be used to send sound efficiently through bone! This would open up a totally new way of treating people who had, up until this point, not been able to hear as they could not benefit from traditional air conduction hearing aids.

Brånemark’s discovery gave birth to the Baha System, and today more than 100,000 patients around the world can hear and communicate thanks to a bone conduction hearing solution. And it has all been possible thanks to Professor Brånemark’s pioneering work.

Brånemark’s worked in close cooperation with the Department of Otolaryngology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital and Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg, Sweden in the early days of bone conduction hearing systems. Two of his closest collaborators were Bo Håkansson, now professor at Chalmers, and Anders Tjellström, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc.hc.

Prof. Brånemark, Dr Tjellström and Prof. Håkansson in the early 80's

Prof. Brånemark, Dr Tjellström and Prof. Håkansson

Here, they remember Professor Brånemark in their own words.

Bo Håkansson, was the innovator of the original transducer used to help patients hear through a Baha System. He remembers the early years:

“For me, as a young graduate student, it was incredibly inspiring to be part of a research environment where Brånemark tied leading researchers from both Sweden and abroad to the research team. The weekly interrogations were admittedly tough for the students but certainly very educational, and these students have later ended up in senior positions at universities around the world.

Professor Brånemark may have been perceived as tough to work with, especially among company heads with other priorities, but I got to know a soft side of him, a side that genuinely cared about his patients and coworkers. I remember his indomitable quest to meet patients’ needs as a top priority before managements’ profits. One of his doctrines was that everyone involved in research in these areas must meet with patients at least once a week. According to him, it was the basis for any successful medical project.”

Anders Tjellström recalls:

“In the early 70s, I was working as a resident at the ENT department in Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg and had the opportunity to assist Professor Brånemark in some of his surgery. Brånemark met many patients with facial defects due to tumour surgery, trauma or congenital malformation. These patients suffered heavily from their defects. Many of them could not be part of social life. Some would not even go out in daylight hours.

Using the same titanium solution as for dental and bone conduction hearing solutions, these patients were able to get implants for the retention of facial prostheses made from silicon. Brånemark took an eager interest in this work and was often the leading surgeon in major defects. The work with cranio-facial prosthesis is today an integrated part of Cochlear; known as the VistaFix System.

Those of us who had the privilege to have Professor Brånemark as our teacher, mentor and friend have been very fortunate. The empty space he has left behind will be hard to fill. One remarkable thing about this world-renowned scientist was his bedside manner with patients. No matter what, the patient was always his main focus.”

Here at Cochlear we are very grateful for Professor Brånemark’s discovery and lifetime focus on patient needs, work that has increased the quality of life for so many people around the world. His spirit still lives on here at Cochlear where we continue his legacy of innovation.

The osseointegrated titanium implant is still the strong foundation of the Baha System, and we thank Professor Brånemark for making it possible.

 

Professor Per-Ingvar Brånemark has passed away

professor-per-ingvar-branemark-death-2014

On December 20, 2014, Per-Ingvar Brånemark passed away after a period of extended illness in his hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. He was 85.

Professor Brånemark revolutionized the implant dentistry sphere with his discovery of osseointegration in the 1950s – an innovation that would stretch far and beyond the dental world.

After his scientific discovery that the human body would not only tolerate titanium, but also integrate it into living bone tissue, implantable bone conduction solutions have improved the quality of life for millions of people around the world.

A rabbit’s leg

As a young researcher in his native Sweden, Professor Brånemark was not interested in either titanium or implants. He was actually working to advance the world’s knowledge of the anatomy of blood flow, and used an optical device that happened to be enclosed in machined titanium. Attached to a rabbit’s leg, this device made it possible for him to study micro circulation in the bone tissue of rabbits through specially modified light microscopes. When it was time to remove the device from the bone, Brånemark was surprised to find that the bone and the titanium had become inseparable.

Against conventional wisdom

His findings that titanium could integrate in the bone, flew in the face of conventional wisdom. In the mid-1960s, physicians and dentists were still being taught that foreign, non-biological materials could not be integrated into living tissue. The academic world turned against Brånemark’s research.

These were tough times for Brånemark. He was repeatedly turned down when he applied for renewed grants to study tissue anchored implants, yet he persevered. Eventually the US National Institute of Health stepped in and funded his research, which made it possible for him to demonstrate the accuracy of his claims and the success of his surgeries. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare finally approved of the Brånemark method.

From teeth to hearing loss

The first clinical application of titanium was in oral surgery, where implants were used for replacing teeth. For his patients with missing dentures, this meant a whole new life of being able to chew, swallow, speak and smile.

After a while, Brånemark tried a new acoustic method to evaluate how well the titanium implant had fused with the bone, and how stable it was. A patient with dental implants was fitted with a bone vibrator on one of his implants. When tested, the patient experienced very loud sound from the vibrator – even though he suffered from hearing loss. An amazing new discovery was born – that sound can travel through bone!

The Baha solution

Both Dr. Tjellström and Håkansson later followed up on Brånemark’s findings and lay the ground of what was to become the bone conduction hearing implant; the Baha solution. So far, more than 100,000 hearing impaired people all over the world have been helped by this technology and professor Brånemark’s legacy.

Prof. Brånemark, Dr Tjellström and Prof. Håkansson in the early 80's

Prof. Brånemark, Dr Tjellström and Prof. Håkansson in the early 80’s