At first glance, tinnitus, digestive disorders and impaired gripping functions have nothing in common - however, the research project INTAKT addresses these three scenarios in form of a basic technology for a possible treatment. Led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT, the innovation cluster unites project partners from business, science and clinical areas. In May 2022, the project was successfully completed after a term of five years.
The platform idea of INTAKT connects the three different areas. For every application, the microimplant network is identical. The respective system components for control as well as energy and data transmission are adapted to the body regions, but they are based on the same technologies. The user interface for individual settings or system control has been adapted to the specific therapy concepts, for instance eye tracking glasses for control by paraplegic users.
INTAKT stands for INTerAKtive Microimplants, which visibly improve the patient's quality of life. A totally new form of human-technology interaction. In addition to the design of the microimplants, energy sources, charging devices, GUI for patient and doctor as well as surgical tools, WILDDDESIGN created animations in close cooperation with the clinicians. The animations were also used for professional articles.
For the most part, we were in the phase of basic research - the approach is unique and there are hardly any similar products. Therefore, the context analyses and resulting use scenarios already took up a lot of time and effort. We could develop future scenarios and the product requirements from interviews and questionnaires with the clinicians.
Adapted to the individual needs, the microimplant network offers the possibility of stimulating the affected organs with electrical impulses. In case of the intestinal application, several microimplants are placed in the gastrointestinal tract and test the intestinal function that still exists. They communicate among each other and pass the data to a central control unit, which is also attached to the cuff around the stomach. The implants provide electrical stimulation and thus cause coordinated movements in the esophagus, stomach and intestines.
In case of the gripping function application, up to 12 implants are inserted in the forearm. The patient also wears eye-tracking glasses with integrated GUI (Graphical User Interface). In the case of tinnitus suppression, one to two implants are inserted at the round window of the inner ear. In contrast to the other use cases, electrical impulses do not stimulate movement in this area but suppress the tinnitus.
The design of the inductive energy transmitters offered special challenges, as they are adapted to the respective body shape. For the gripping function and intestinal area, the team chose a fabric coil cuff with a Velcro fastener. For tinnitus suppression, a different solution was required. In that case we opted for an ear wearable. Like the cochlear implant, it is attached to the head behind the ear via a magnetic fastening. The design is simple and less stigmatizing in all applications. For tests of the technical components and the attachment of the implants to the tissue, WILDDESIGN created various functional prototypes for the project partners in the form of 3D prints.
To insert the implants, surgeons first use a detection tool which was designed by WILDDESIGN for this application and is used to determine the optimal stimulation point. The implants are then placed using surgical instruments. The newly designed special instrument ensures an ergonomic handling even during prolonged use. The implants lie flat under the skin so they are not noticeable. For an ideal energy supply, the coil is placed close under the skin surface.
The platform concept also applies to the GUI, which has the same structure for every application. The interface for the doctor enables him to take presettings that determine the extent of the possible adjustments for the patient. The patient can easily make individual settings via the patient interface.
The accompanying animations show how the implants work. They replace the creation of high-end prototypes at the presentation event at the end of the project which could only take place online due to the Covid pandemic. During the project, simple animations have become detailed and elaborate videos. In return, our team has grown by another employee: Thomas Lauterjung will continue to support WILDDESIGN in the area of 3D visualization and animation in the future.
Tinnitus suppression application
Gripping function application
The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research initiated and funded the project. It has evaluated the demonstrator implant as positive and now, after the successful preclinical phase, the team aims to miniaturize the technical components. On the homepage designed by WILDDESIGN, you can find more information as well as the other project partners.