UW surgeons perform world's first implant to treat Meniere's disease


by KING 5 HealthLink


Posted on October 21, 2010 at 5:45 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM


SEATTLE - Gene Pugnetti suffers from Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes vertigo. He's had 45 attacks since February.

"Cannot predict it .It will hit me in the middle of a meeting or it will hit me at various times," he said.

Gene's wife Phyllis said most people think of vertigo as just a mild case of dizziness, but it's far more debilitating.

"The vertigo attacks can sometimes last for hours and hours and hours. Sometimes 10 or 20 hours," she said.

In cases like Gene's, surgery is usually the answer, but it comes at the expense of hearing, loss of balance, or both. But doctors at the University of Washington are now attempting something that's never been tried before in humans -- an implant.

"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."

Dr. Rubinstein and his team re-engineered existing cochlear implant technology to adapt it for Meniere's patients.

"The device is exactly the same hardware as a cochlear implant and it's the electrodes on the ends that are different," he said.

Those electrodes will be hooked up to the balance centers of the inner ear.

In a few weeks the device will be turned on, adjusted, and the first test will be when Gene feels another attack of vertigo coming on.

The Pugnettis are cautiously optimistic.

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

Gene is the first of 10 patients to get the implant in the initial study.


If you are interested in participating in the clinical trial, the number to call is (206) 598-8896.