MED-EL Cochlear Implant Surgery in Space

Editor’s note: Thanks for having fun with us on our April Fools announcement. Of course, there really was no CI surgery in space. But until that does happen, we’ll be here giving you even more (real) hearing implant news and facts, guest articles, and tips and tricks from here on Earth.

Today, for the first time in human history, a cochlear implant surgery will be performed in space with a MED-EL CI. The implantation, a cooperation between MED-EL and a leading space agency, will help restore the sense of hearing to an astronaut who recently had a sudden hearing loss.

“We are all very excited to announce this revolutionary step,” our CEO Ingeborg Hochmair said. “MED-EL has always been about expanding the capabilities of modern technologies, and to have one of our CIs being implanted in space is truly a testament to the capabilities of our hearing implants.”

Dr. Ingeborg Hochmair has now initiated the creation of a department within MED-EL to develop the Austrian Space Hearing Authority (ASHA). ASHA is dedicated to further improve hearing implant technology by incorporating the results from physics experiments conducted in space.

While all hearing implant surgeries to date have occurred in Earth-based surgical theaters, extraordinary circumstances for astronaut Sterling Roman required a novel approach to the implantation. Roman, who was in the middle of a long-term space mission, had a sudden bilateral hearing loss last week that caused  profound deafness in both ears. When all possible options were considered it was clear that a CI implantation would be his only hope to hear again, but the success of his mission required that he remain in the space station. Given these constraints, plans were drawn up to perform the implantation in space.

For Roman, choosing one of our MED-EL cochlear implants and the RONDO audio processor was the only option.

“Really, MED-EL was the obvious choice,” he said. “The RONDO audio processor will be great because it doesn’t have any cables, so in zero gravity nothing will get in the way. No other cochlear implant company has a device like RONDO. And, being a scientist myself, their dedication to research and development is the icing on the cake for me.”


The RONDO audio processor and CONCERTO implant that will be used in today's space surgery.

The RONDO audio processor and CONCERTO implant that will be used in today’s space surgery.


Preparations for the surgery have been occurring both in space and on the ground. In the station a specially prepared sterilized  cabin has been fitted with the equipment necessary for a surgery, while on Earth, surgeon Dr. Ed Flowiter and his anesthesiologist have undertaken intensive courses on spaceflight and the unique dynamics of implanting a cochlear implant in space to become a fully qualified space surgeon. If you’re curious about what happens during a cochlear implant surgery, be sure to check out our previous blog post that explains it in detail.

The surgery is planned to take approximately 2 hours, similar to that of a cochlear implantation on Earth, but since this is the first cochlear implantation in space all the equipment will have to be brought up on a dedicated spaceflight. Also included on this flight will be the implant, the RONDO, and the devices required to activate and fit the audio processor.

Fitting the audio processor will be done remotely between the space station and an audiologist at our headquarters. When completed, it will have the distinction of being the most remote fitting done to date.

The surgery will begin at 13:00 CET, and we’ll be live-tweeting the whole day to keep you up to date so make sure to check the MED-EL Twitter page.

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