Singapore's NUS researchers to treat hearing disorder with palm-size device

CLiKX is said to be able to cut the recovery time and cost for the treatment of glue ear condition.

By Anuradha Shukla
May 29, 2017

Researchers from NUS have developed a novel handheld device, known as CLiKX, for the treatment of a condition called Otitis Media with Effusion. Credit: NUS

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) will soon be treating hearing loss with a new handheld device, known as CLiKX.

This invention is said to treat a condition called Otitis Media with Effusion (OME), or 'glue ear', which causes hearing loss.

CLiKX is sensor-guided and has the ability to significantly improve current surgical treatment of the condition. It is developed by a team led by Associate Professor Tan Kok Kiong from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering; together with Dr Lynne Lim, an Adjunct Associate Professor with the Department of Otolaryngology at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Senior Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Consultant at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.

OME is a condition where the middle ear becomes filled with fluid instead of air. In Singapore, about 84,000 children suffer from 'glue ear' each year.

"The first line therapy for OME is usually the prescription of antibiotics and treatment of blocked ear tubes. But sometimes, the antibiotics may not be effective against OME," said Dr Lim. 

"For patients with three or more episodes of OME within a year -- especially if there is hearing loss and speech difficulties, some with craniofacial predispositions, or those who are concerned about building resistance to long term use of antibiotics -- grommet tube placement surgery is currently the gold standard of care. A grommet is a very small tube that is inserted onto the patient's ear drum during surgery to help drain away fluid in the middle ear. Each procedure usually takes about 30 minutes under general anaesthesia to complete," explained Dr Lim.

"CLiKX can potentially shift the current standard surgical procedures for OME. With this pistol-like applicator, the grommet tube can be easily inserted into a patient's ear within a single click. In less than a second, the procedure is done," added associate professor Tan.

The NUS team aims to conduct the first-in-man trial in Singapore in 2018 and aim to launch the device in the market by 2020.


Reduction of recovery time and treatment cost for patients

CLiKX is expected to significantly reduce costs, manpower and resources, which should help patients, healthcare institutions, and insurers.

The palm-sized 185-gram CLiKX has the ability to deliver the grommet tube into a patient's ear quickly and safely using a sensor-controlled automation process.

Because this process minimises the overall contact time with the patient's eardrum, it prevents over-deformation and excessive pressure, thereby reducing discomfort and trauma for the patients.

Besides that, CLiKX enables the procedure to be administered in a doctor's consultation room under local anaesthesia, or out of the operating theatre under intravenous conscious sedation without general anaesthesia. Pre-operative preparation and post-operative recovery time for patients are thus significantly reduced. 

 The new device can work well with a range of commercially available grommets and does not require any custom-made grommet tubes.