UW Meniere's implant passes first test

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by KING 5 HealthLink

NWCN.com

Posted on November 19, 2010 at 6:50 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

When we last caught up with Gene Pugnetti, he was about to get an experimental implant that doctors at the University of Washington hope will control his Meniere's disease, an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo.

"The idea behind the vestibular implant is to serve as a pacemaker for the inner ear," said Dr. Jay Rubinstein.

"We know that we can take animals and make them dizzy and stop their dizziness with the device, but we don't know that about Meniere's attacks on humans."

In fact, Dr.Rubinstein helped re-engineer cochlear implant technology to adapt it for Meniere's patients.

Gene's wife Phyllis tried to temper her enthusiasm.

"We have to wait to see what the results are, but we're really hoping that this will change our lives," said Phyllis.

That's saying a lot for a man who had to give up scaling mountains. Meniere's has been his toughest climb yet.

Two weeks later, his scar barely visible, Gene arrived back at the UW Medical Center for for testing.

Because this has never been done before in humans, doctors weren't sure how Gene would respond.

"We didn't really have expectations. The possibilities were, the extremes were  It worked perfectly or it didn't work at all and were were expecting it to be somewhere in between those," said Dr. Rubinstein.

Gene described the sensations:

"I was totally in the dark. They were able to turn on electrodes and give me the sensation that I was actually spinning...when in actuality I was sitting perfectly still and I was able to describe it to them and yet they were able to see that in my eye movements," said Gene.

"We were pretty happy with the results," said Dr. Rubinstein.

After the software is tweaked, Gene will be back in a few more weeks to have his device switched on for its first real test: an attack of vertigo.

If it does work, as hoped, he may not be scaling mountains any time soon, but he will be able to travel again with Switzerland at the top of his list.

"I have even greater confidence that this is going to work. And not just for me, but those who follow," he said.

We'll keep you posted on Gene's progress.


 

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