Artificial vestibular system works


The artificial vestibular system implanted for the first time in humans in 2012 at Maastricht UMC+ appears to work well. This according to a team of doctors and researchers led by Herman Kingma, the only professor of Clinical Vestibulology in the Netherlands, who will retire today.  During the farewell ceremony honouring Kingma for his commitment to Maastricht University and Maastricht UMC+, Kingma was presented with three awards: the Maastricht University Medallion of Honour, the Faculitaire Kleinood (faculty medal) from the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences and the azM Medal from Maastricht UMC+.

In September 2012, twelve patients with impaired vestibular systems received an artificial vestibular implant. Many of these patients couldn't see when they moved their heads and suffered from balance problems. They have undergone tests in a laboratory setting since 2012. An analysis of the latest test results revealed that the artificial implant not only improved eye stability (and visual acuity), it also controlled head and body movements. This offers new insights into improving balance in the future. The researchers demonstrated for the first time that the artificial implant does indeed work. These research results will be published extensively this year, including in the scientific journal Frontiers.


With the effectiveness of the initial prototype having been successfully demonstrated, the researchers will now focus on improving the prototype with the aim of developing an implant that can be used as a daily medical aid outside a laboratory setting. The technique and the patient research will be conducted in collaboration with the University Hospital of Geneva.


Balance disorders are more common than most people think. One in five people will experience some form of balance problem (e.g. a problem in a specific area of the vestibular system). Twenty-five percent of people over the age of sixty-five suffer from an impaired vestibular system. While this is most often associated with a fall or a fracture, young people can also experience a sudden failure of the vestibular system as a symptom of certain medications, for example. Some lifesaving antibiotics like gentamicin are known to affect the vestibular system. But tick bites and autoimmune disorders can also impair the vestibular system.


Professor Herman Kingma, originally a quantum biophysicist, is an international authority in the field of balance disorders. Today, he is being presented with the Medallion of Honour, the Faculty Medal and the azM Medal for his dedicated efforts to the development, reputation and visibility of Maastricht University and Maastricht UMC+ over the past thirty years. Kingma was the initiator behind the global standardisation of clinical diagnostics in balance disorders. In addition to research, he also devoted much of his time to education. He spent years travelling the world to share his knowledge and passion with others and is an expert at making complex knowledge accessible to a wide range of target groups. Kingma has devoted himself actively to participation at Maastricht University. As president of the University Council, he spent six years improving participation. In addition to his professorship, he is also head of the vestibulology division for clinical diagnostics at the ENT department at Maastricht UMC+. He will be succeeded by otolaryngologist Raymond van de Berg when he retires.

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