Implant infection answer a winner

From The Australian, 21 June 2008:
THE brain is an incredibly fragile organ. Evolution certainly thinks so — it has surrounded this mass of nerves and cells with a solid case of bone to guard against physical trauma, and lined its blood vessels with an almost impermeable membrane to guard against chemical and biological threats.
As long as these defences remain unbreached, the brain is relatively safe.
But sometimes they have to be breached. Cochlear implants bypass damaged hearing systems to directly stimulate the auditory nerves, but to enable this, surgeons must drill through the bone and implant electrodes deep within the inner ear, where they come into direct contact with the nerves.
It is testament to the careful design of implants and the skill of the surgeon that this procedure and the device are so safe. But in June 2002, something went wrong. The US Food and Drug Administration began getting reports of bacterial meningitis in children who had received a cochlear implant. Their investigation revealed a 30-fold increase in the risk of bacterial meningitis compared to the general population, especially in children with a particular US-designed cochlear implant that included a “positioner” — a tiny wedge that held the implanted electrode against the wall of the inner ear.
The discovery led to swift withdrawal of that design of implant.
Around the same time, a young Taiwan-born Australian doctor, Benjamin Wei, was taking his first steps on the path to becoming an ear, nose and throat surgeon. But unusually, he also hankered for the laboratory.
“At the time, meningitis and cochlear implants were very topical and I was very interested and I wanted to have some experience in research,” says Wei, an ENT surgical registrar and scientist at The Bionic Ear Institute in Melbourne.
Earlier this month, Wei, 31, received the 2008 Victorian Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research for his investigation into the link between implants and pneumococcal meningitis. What he discovered has implications not just for cochlear implants, but for any device implanted in the brain. Read more.

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