Novel hearing device tops Cleveland Clinic’s list of Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2010

Cleveland Clinic logoCLEVELAND, Ohio — A removable hearing and communication device that treats patients who have lost hearing in one ear is No. 1 on the Cleveland Clinic’s list of Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2010.

Customarily, the Clinic announces its top 10 innovations on the closing day of its annual medical innovation summit. This year’s summit — the Cleveland institution’s seventh — has focused on cancer and concludes today at the hospital’s Intercontinental Hotel. Also part of the custom, the Clinic does not name the innovations or their makers.

The Clinic’s list is meant to highlight what it considers the medical innovations that will have the most impact next year. Companies involved with the technologies relish the announcement and often produce their own press releases about the rankings, including them in marketing materials.

Sometimes, the lists are premature. In some cases, the innovations make a bigger splash several years after they are picked by the Clinic. Last year’s No.1, which counts the cancerous tumor cells circulating in the blood, was approved for some indications by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but remains under development.

The ear device honored this year is unlike a conventional hearing aid that turns up the volume of sound entering the ear. Rather, it restores hearing by using a tiny microphone worn behind the ear to conduct sound vibrations directly to the inner ear.

Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit 2009 logoA dental retainer-like appliance worn in the mouth picks up sound from the microphone, converting it to vibrations that are transmitted through the teeth and bones to the cochlea — the coiled tube in the inner ear that translates vibration as sound. A quick search of the Internet revealed the likely device and maker — SoundBite by Sonitus Medical.

The device could help the 9 million people in the United States who suffer from single-sided deafness — a short-circuiting of hearing caused by trauma, infections or a slow-growing tumor. FDA approval for this device is expected next year, according to the Clinic, whose doctors, researchers and other professionals scour their industry for the following year’s hot medical technologies.

Additional innovations honored by the Clinic this year include blood clotting technologies, sleep apnea devices and forced exercise for Parkinson’s patients. In reverse order, here are the rest of its Top 10 Innovations for 2010:

10. Whole-slide imaging technology. A new technology converts glass slides into digital slides for pathologists who identify disease by studying human tissue. The technology creates images that can be viewed, managed, stored and streamed over the Internet and analyzed on a computer. This enables remote analysis and reporting.

9. Implanted devices that block a thumb-sized pouch on top of the left side of the heart to cut down on stroke risk for patients who have atrial fibrillation— an abnormal beating of heart’s upper chambers. By keeping blood from stagnating in the pouches, called “left atrial appendages,”  patients are less likely to develop blood clots and clot-related strokes. “Our hope is is that this device will allow people who suffer from A-Fib to enjoy a better quality of life” that is free from the risks of using blood thinners, which can have dangerous side-effects, said Dr. Samir Kapadia, an interventional cardiologist at the Clinic, in a written announcement.

8. A new drug that stimulates the production of cells in the bone marrow that form clotting platelets in the blood. The drug could help patients who have idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, an unexplained autoimmune disorder that destroys the blood’s platelets, which enable normal clotting. The drug, which has shown promise in an international Phase III clinical trial, could significantly improve the health of patients who now rely on hit-or-miss medications or drastic measures like removal of the spleen.

7. At-home monitoring devices for the diagnosis of sleep apnea. Such tests now are administered at sleep centers through all-night studies. The studies measure how many times and for how long patients stop breathing while they sleep. Trouble is, occurrences of sleep apnea are growing at a much faster rate than new sleep centers. The self-contained, sleep-monitoring devices can be worn on the wrists and fingers of patients while they sleep in their own beds at  home.

6. Forced exercise to help motor skills among Parkinson’s disease patients. Parkinson’s is a brain disease that slowly robs patients of their ability to control their movements. Patients who were forced to pedal a tandem bicycle at a relatively high speed saw a 35 percent improvement in motor skills compared to patients who pedaled a bike a stationary bike at their own pace. The theory is, the “forced” exercise causes the brain to trigger the release of chemicals that help movement.

5. New techniques for freezing and storing human eggs so that women can bear children later in life. Current techniques can result in “freezer burn” for the eggs, which compromises their integrity.

4. New anti-clotting drugs for joint replacement patients. The drugs, which are not based on Vitamin K, as are some current drugs, would prevent blood clots deep in leg veins that can break free and cause life-threatening embolisms in the lungs. An advisory panel for the FDA earlier this year approved a once-daily drug that prevents abnormal blood clotting following joint replacements. “[Venous thromboembolisms] are responsible for more deaths each year than motor vehicle accidents, HIV and breast cancer combined,” Dr. Roy Silverman, chair of the Clinic’s Department of Cell Biology, in the announcement.

3. Continuous-flow heart pumps. Through a rotary pumping mechanism, these implanted devices quietly take over much of the work of the ventricles — the lower chambers of the heart — for heart failure patients and those who are awaiting heart transplants.

2. Inflatable trachea cuffs that reduce pneumonia caused by mechanical ventilators. Critically ill or injured people who lose the ability breathe on their own are put on mechanical ventilators, which takes over breathing by forcing air into the lungs. However, nearly 30 percent of these patients end up with pneumonia caused by the ventilators. The tiny trachea cuffs seal the airway but allows secretions — like saliva — to drain properly, rather than into the lungs, where they can cause infections.

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