Lantos Technologies, a small startup spun out of MIT, has created the first FDA-cleared digital ear-canal scanner which will dramatically help improve the fitting of hearing aids, in-ear monitors used by musicians, and even communication devices used by our military.
The Lantos 3-D Ear Canal Scanner should be rolling out to audiologists by the end of the year and brings much-needed innovation to the 36 million Americans who suffer from hearing problems and spend $6 billion dollars on hearing aids annually.
There are advancements in hearing aid technology on a weekly basis, but the technology for creating molds – or casts – of the inner ear is technology from the 1950s. Audiologists have always been looking for a way to make better, more accurate impressions of the inner ear.
In the past audiologists would use a two-part silicone resin that is injected into the patient’s ear canal using a large syringe. The material sits in the ear for about 5 to 7 minutes until it hardens and is then removed. The process can be time consuming, uncomfortable and doesn’t capture the true shape of the canal when the person speaks or chews.
Lantos’ new device could make that process obsolete. “What our scanner does is remove the silicone impression process from the workflow, as well as the shipping and receiving of the impression at the manufacturer and 3-D scanning of the impression at the manufacturer site in prep for 3-D printing,” explained Dr. Jennifer Rossi, Vice President of Marketing at Lantos.
In place of messy resins, the Lantos Scanner inserts a small video camera into the ear. A flexible membrane surrounding the camera is filled with a specially formulated dye and conforms to the ear canal while the camera captures hundreds of images, including pictures of the ear canal in movement, that are stitched together to create a topographical map of the ear canal suitable for 3-D printing.
The data is then sent to a manufacturer and a hearing aid is produced, or potentially 3-D printed onsite as that technology continues to mature. Using the old method, the mold has to be sent to a hearing aid manufacturer and a reverse mold is created. A casting is made using the reverse mold and then shipped back to the audiologist for a fit check. This process often needs to be repeated multiple times to ensure a proper fit. Some more advanced practices can 3-D scan the silicone mold and create a 3-D print, but it’s still not as accurate or fast as working with the direct digital data that should theoretically lead to a better fit in a shorter amount of time.
The Lantos scanner could make it easier to produce hearing aids for people who aren’t candidates for traditional impressions. It’s less invasive and there can been accidents taking traditional impressions. Material gets stuck in crevices in the ear canal and can perforate the ear drum. The Lantos technology is much less invasive.