PhD Position in Intracochlear Imaging and Biosensor Functionality for Cochlear Implants

Catholic University of Leuven


The research group of Experimental Otorhinolaryngology, Dept. Neurosciences is one of the many research groups of KU Leuven, the University of Leuven. Leuven is located in the center of Belgium, in the heart of Europe. The main research topics at ExpORL, Dept. Neurosciences are: * Bone conduction pathway investigation and study of new hearing implant systems * Cochlear micromechanics and optics including optical coherence tomography * Development of Biosensor for cochlear implants * Speech and music processing for cochlear implants * Use of electrophysiological objective measures in acoustic hearing implants * Noise reduction for improved speech reception with hearing instruments in adverse and noisy listening environments * Binaural hearing: signal processing schemes and evaluation procedures for bilateral acoustical and/or electrical hearing instruments * New electrical stimulation for optimal neural excitation in cochlear implants * New auditory measurement methods based on auditory brain evoked potentials for improved diagnostics and hearing instruments In these studies we focus on the chain of auditory modeling, middle and inner ear mechanics, signal processing, simulation, psychophysical tests, electro-physiological measurements, imaging, lab-implementation, and evaluation with normal hearing subjects and users of hearing aids, middle ear implants and cochlear implants. Intensive research has led to fundamental knowledge about hearing with hearing instruments. Based on these studies, new signal processing strategies have been developed that are now used worldwide in the most recent cochlear implant systems, middle ear implants and hearing aids. Furthermore, diagnostic and evaluation strategies have been developed that are clinically applied.


The research group ExpORL, Dept. Neurosciences, KU Leuven, Belgium, is looking for a dedicated PhD candidate for an exciting project on the investigation of the added value of in situ monitoring of electrode-tissue interface through intracochlear imaging and biosensing functionalities.

Cochlear implants (CI) are considered the most successful sensory prosthesis based on an electrode array, providing a solution for severe to complete deafness. Usually, the cochlea is regarded as a blackbox and insertion of such an electrode array is performed more or less blind. By applying optical coherence tomography, based on low coherence interferometry, we will visualize and guide the insertion inside the cochlea. Furthermore, we aim to investigate how cochlear inflammatory processes relate with measurable changes in the electrical properties of the electrode-cochlea interface. For this, we will use dielectric spectroscopy, a technique that reveals molecular relaxations and electrical properties. Experiments will be performed in vitro (artificial perilymph and cadaver temporal bones) and in vivo in the Guinea pig CI model. This fundamental research presents an important translational value as it allows to improve the outcome of cochlear implantation in our patients.

The research project aims to investigate the electrical properties of the electrode-cochlea interface after CI electrode insertion with minimal adaptation of existing (i.e. commercially available and biocompatible) CI electrodes, including the application of a surface coating containing a biorecognition element. The candidate will join an investigation of inflammatory processes in the cochlea and how they correlate with measurable changes in the electrical properties of the electrode-tissue interface. For a correct interpretation of both the electrical properties and the homeostasis of the cochlea, the results are supplemented by intracochlear visual imaging in the form of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). Specific objectives are:

* To adapt OCT for visual intracochlear imaging, allowing electrode localization and evaluation of electrode-tissue interface. OCT imaging will allow correlating DRS findings with anatomical and histological changes without the need of complete cochlea sacrifice.

* To add sensory functionality to cochlear implants with the aim of detecting inflammatory processes and preventing insertion trauma.

* To investigate the potential of dielectric relaxation spectroscopy to provide information on the local electrical properties of the perilymph liquid, the basilar membrane and on the electrode interface. 

Also in collaboration with an industrial partner newly developed devices will be analyzed applying this newly developed method. 

The work will include:

  • Intracochlear OCT imaging: to implement and optimize non-invasive intracochlear OCT imaging for verifying the correct placement of the CI electrode array and assessing insertion-related trauma through pre-, intra- and post-operative imaging. First in vitro on human cadaver temporal bones and later in vivo on guinea pigs.
  • OCT-guided insertion of CI on Guinea pig temporal bones: Live imaging of the cochlea via OCT will be used to guide the insertion of a CI electrode array in the scala tympani of guinea pig temporal bones. Concrete outcome will include the exact localization and trajectory of the electrode array within the first and second turn of the cochlea with live feedback.
  • Intracochlear dielectric relaxation spectroscopy: Fundamental study of the use of DRS for in vivo analysis of the cochlea, with a focus on dielectric properties of the perilymph, i.e. molecular relaxations, and the basilar membrane and phenomena at the electrode-tissue interface. First in vitro on human cadaver temporal bones and later in vivo onguinea pigs.
  • Use of CI-Biosensor for inflammation pathway detection: The development of biosensing schemes allowing for the in situ detection of inflammatory markers based on standard CI electrodes as transducers: the candidate will use modified CI electrode arrays fabricated by a different PhD in the research project.

Typical day-to-day tasks include: designing test protocols, performing wetlab experiments optical coherence tomography and dielectric spectroscopy(aided by a postdoc) , analyzing results, reading and writing scientific publications and presenting your work at international conferences.

Specific requirements:

  • Work with optical coherence tomography or background in optics
  • Conceptual insight in anatomy of the guinea pig and human ear (from a basic biomedical perspective)
  • Animal wetlab experience or willingness for human head experiments
  • Create auditory stimuli in Matlab
  • Candidate should fulfill all requirements of the Doctoral school of Biomedical sciences  (
  • Fluent English speaking and writing, EU member.
  • In possession of Felasa B “animal experiment” certificate or willing to study for Felasa B (40 hours online course) during first year of PhD is a plus.


  •  A degree in biomedical sciences, biomedical engineering, physics, master in audiology or similar.
  •  An interest in auditory perception and temporal bone work.
  •  An inquisitive and creative mind,good problem solving skills, teamworker.
  •  An open mind towards wet lab experiments involving temporal bone work in Guinea pig and human cadaver.
  •  Very good English proficiency.
  •  Dutch speaker, or willing to learn Dutch.
  •  Knowledge of neurobiology, human neurophysiology and psychology of hearing is a benefit.


  • A Ph.D. title after 4 years of research.
  • A thorough scientific education, the possibility to become a world-class researcher.
  • Improvement of auditory tissue handling skills in cadavers head and guinea pigs.
  • Collaboration with industry focusing on newly designed hearing implants.
  • Membership of a world-renowned lab, as part of a motivated interdisciplinary team.
  • Membership of KU Leuven, one of the largest research universities of Europe.
  • The possibility to take part in international conferences and collaborations.
  • A competitive salary (


For more information please contact Mr. Tristan Putzeys, tel.: +32 16 37 76 90, mail: or Prof. dr. Nicolas Verhaert, tel.: +32 16 37 78 53, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than December 31, 2020 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: December 31, 2020
  • Tags: Natuurkunde en Sterrenkunde

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