- LD: Barney can hear those whistles again
- By Barbara Adam
BRISBANE, May 6 AAP - A stray golden labrador called Barney has become the first dog in
the world to have a hearing aid implanted directly into its skull.
The small hearing aid, attached externally to a titanium screw protruding from Barney's
skull, transmits sound through the bones of his head into his inner ear.
The veterinary surgeon and the human audiologist who performed the implant now hope the
procedure can be developed further for use in young children who are unable to wear
conventional hearing aids, and also for other pet dogs and cats.
The procedure has been used to restore hearing to about 20 adult patients at the Royal
Brisbane Hospital but a certain thickness of skull is required, making children under the
age of three ineligible for the implant.
Barney's historic hearing aid was implanted after he was found wandering around the
University of Queensland last September - underweight, bedraggled and in severe pain from
a chronic ear infection.
Luckily for Barney, the head of small animal surgery in the university's veterinary
science department, Sue Sommerlad, had a soft spot for golden labradors.
She took Barney home to keep her other golden lab company but the painful and stubborn
ear infection needed radical surgery.
"It was either put him to sleep or operate," Mrs Sommerlad said.
To cure the ear infection, most of Barney's diseased ear canal was removed, leaving
only the inner ear deep inside his head, and a floppy, furry ear-flap outside his head.
Mrs Sommerlad soon began investigating the possibility of canine hearing aids to try to
restore some of her dog's quality of life.
She attended a course on bone-anchored hearing aids using titanium implants, then began
talking to human audiologists about using the procedure on dogs.
Late last year, Mrs Sommerlad inserted a titanium screw into the top of Barney's skull.
Assisting with the surgery was Deborah Mackenzie, the director of audiological services
at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, who had implanted similar hearing aids in humans.
After Barney's skull bone grew into the screw, anchoring it firmly in his head, the two
specialists operated a second time to attach the hearing aid.
"Audiological testing has shown that Barney has regained his hearing, " Mrs
Sommerlad told reporters at the University of Queensland today.
Mrs Sommerlad said the success of Barney's bone-anchored hearing aid would give hope to
many pet owners faced with sacrificing their dog's hearing to cure ear infections.
Swedish medical company Nobel Biocare, which made the hearing aid now used by Barney,
are also interested in further research into animal implants.
John Divitini, the company's technical support manager, said Barney's hearing aid would
last about 30 years with proper maintenance.
Mrs Sommerlad said because Labradors were not especially long-lived, she expected
Barney to live another four or five years, but those years could be lived to the full
because of his hearing aid.