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Research Award Winner 2023: Philipp Aebischer


A core feature of the developed tool is a thin plastic sleeve that guides the cochlear implant electrode array through the complex anatomy of the round window niche. This stabilizes the implant and reduces the load on the most vulnerable structures. The sleeve is designed for atraumatic placement, gaining its structural strength solely through interaction with the inserted implant, much like an inflatable structure. After the procedure, the instrument can be easily removed using a tear-open mechanism

 

Please introduce yourself. What is your background?

I studied physics at the University of Fribourg. After that, I needed a break from academic life and co-founded a video production company focusing on outdoor sports. It was quite a shift, but I learned a lot of things that you don’t pick up through scientific studies. Anyway, my curiosity for science remained, and four years later I was drawn back to science and into biomedical engineering by a PhD proposal on surgical solutions for cochlear implants.


You have received the SSBE award. Please briefly describe the project.

Cochlear implants are remarkable devices that restore hearing in individuals with profound deafness by directly stimulating the auditory nerve. But the surgery to place these implants poses significant challenges, primarily due to the need for precise placement of electrodes near sensitive structures within the cochlea, without any direct visual access. In our project we developed a novel surgical tool designed to safely place the implant under minimal load on intracochlear structures. It works by guiding the flexible implant along an optimal path, overcoming anatomical constraints. It is designed to be a low-cost solution that seamlessly integrates into the established surgical workflow.


What does the SSBE award mean to you?

The SSBE award is a recognition of my work and has been a great motivating factor to me. It offered a chance to present our findings to a broader audience, which encouraged further dialogue beyond the field of otology.


Is this project still active? What are the goals?

Following my PhD, we conducted testing on cadaver specimens, which has been instrumental in refining the functionality of the tool. The field is currently gaining traction due to the emergence of robot-assisted implant placement technologies. Our instrument has great potential to complement these devices, and we are working on adapting the design accordingly. Ultimately, we plan to integrate it into clinical practice.


Did the award have an impact on your career?

I think the award is a valuable asset for my CV. It serves as a credential that enhances my professional standing and could open up new opportunities.


What kind of work are you currently doing? How is it related to your PhD studies?

I lead the hearing research laboratory at the ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research at the University of Bern. This role is a direct extension of my PhD work. It allows me to further explore and expand upon the knowledge and techniques I developed during my studies.


What is special about your current work?

I really value the collaborative environment at the ARTORG Center, where we bring together colleagues from the University of Bern, the Insel University Hospital and industrial partners. This partnership bridges the gap between engineering and clinical practice. It allows us to ground our research and development efforts in the practical needs of surgery. I think this is a fantastic opportunity to develop tools that are innovative, relevant, and directly applicable in clinical settings. To me, being part of a team that can translate engineering solutions into real-world medical advancements is genuinely rewarding.


Where do you see yourself in five years?

I want to continue building on our productive collaborations. At the hearing research lab, we have a motivated team and many ongoing projects. I’m hopeful that these efforts will continue to improve treatment outcomes in the future.


Is there something that you would like to convey to the SSBE members?

The SSBE stands for interdisciplinary collaboration and bringing together expertise from various fields. I believe this is fundamental to tackle the complex challenges of biomedical engineering more effectively. This collaborative spirit enhances our ability to innovate and solving health-related problems. As members of the SSBE, we have the opportunity to focus on combining different perspectives and skills to create impactful solutions and ultimately improving patient outcomes.

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