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Qualia Oto Secures over $233k in National Science Foundation Funding

Qualia Oto will receive support for its research in improving cochlear implant capacities

Different designs of Qualia Oto's proposed matrix-addressed, thin-film cochlear electrode array

April 19, 2022 – Qualia Oto achieved another milestone last week by securing its first federal grant. The company received notice on Friday that the National Science Foundation will award Qualia Oto $233,928 to support research and design of its unique matrix-addressed thin-film cochlear implant electrode arrays.

“I am excited about the opportunities this grant provides to Qualia Oto,” said Dr. Jimin Maeng, Qualia Oto’s Senior Research Engineer, who will be the Principal Investigator for the project. “Cochlear implants have been one of the most prevailing neural prostheses, but their design and manufacturing strategies have not changed much over the past 30 years. Qualia Oto has long conceived ideas that could turn into transformative innovation in this space, and this grant will allow us to test and validate our ideas. I am glad that the tremendous possibilities of our technology are now being recognized.”

The grant, an NSF STTR Phase I entitled “Matrix-Addressed, Thin-Film Cochlear Implant Electrode Arrays”, strives to push the industry towards more effective cochlear implant production as well as improved capabilities of the devices once they are implanted.

Currently, intra-cochlear electrode arrays are produced by individuals with high-quality workmanship, largely relying on hand-assembly processes for bundled wire electrodes. The training time required for one to master these manufacturing skills can take several months before the engineer can assist with the production of device products at the worksite; this contributes significantly to the expense of the implants.

Qualia Oto believes that if process automation can be realized by replacing the handmade wire bundles with automated, microfabricated thin films, the manufacturing burden attributed to the labor-intensive assembly processes will be markedly alleviated. This can lead to reduced manufacturing costs and increased availability of cochlear implants to potential users.

The company’s intended approach utilizing thin-film transistors is the first of its kind in any neural stimulation device. It enables high-channel-count cochlear arrays with potentially hundreds of stimulating electrodes that can be individually selected and operated within the intracochlear space.

The grant proposal emphasized how cochlear arrays with multitudes-more electrodes than current devices may create new research and commercialization opportunities; potential clinical benefits include improved pitch specificity and more tailored stimulation.

As part of this project, Qualia Oto will work with Dr. Lakshman Tamil of UT Dallas. Dr. Tamil, a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, is a tenured full Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the director of the Quality of Life Technology Laboratory at the university. As the sub-awardee of the grant, he will lead his team at UT Dallas in the fabrication of the proposed cochlear electrode arrays.

“I am very excited to work with Qualia Oto on this project,” said Tamil. “I like knowing that our success can reduce the cost of cochlear implant devices as well as enhance the quality of hearing, thus benefitting those with hearing disabilities in a big way. Plus, this peer-reviewed grant is a validation of the design and manufacturing methodology for cochlear implants that Qualia Oto has been crafting.”

CFO Benedict Voit will oversee the financials during the nine-month grant.

“This is a great achievement for Qualia Oto,” said Voit. “The federal funding of nearly a quarter million dollars alongside a capital raise of $1.5 million highlights the scientific and market value of Qualia Oto recognized by both the public and private worlds. While receiving this grant is obviously an exciting accomplishment in and of itself, we also see it as the next phase in our long-term developmental success.”

The award starts immediately and will run through December 2022.


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