A team from NUS Electrical and Computer Engineering has developed CLiKX, a novel easy-to-use handheld device that quickly and effectively treats Otitis Media with Effusion (OME), or “glue ear”, the leading cause of hearing loss in children worldwide.
Patients with OME have their middle ear filled with fluid instead of air, due to various causes such as genetics, allergies or a bout of flu. Left untreated, this could cause delays in the speech, language and academic abilities of young children, as well as hearing impairment, middle ear bone tumours and brain infections.
The condition affects about 709 million people annually across the globe, with 90 per cent being children. In Singapore, approximately 84,000 children suffer from “glue ear” each year.
Antibiotics are typically prescribed as the first course of treatment, failing which, surgery may be needed. This involves making an incision on the eardrum and manually inserting a small ventilation tube, or grommet, to help drain the fluid. The procedure lasts about 30 minutes, and is carried out in an operating theatre with the use of general anaesthetic. Though considered a small surgery, the setup requires a large healthcare team and costly surgical equipment.
Led by Associate Professor Tan Kok Kiong, the team invented CLiKX, in collaboration with Adjunct Associate Professor Lynne Lim from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, to improve current surgical treatment of the condition. CLiKX uses a sensor to safely insert almost any commercially available grommet into the patient’s ear with a single click in less than a second, minimising contact with the eardrum and reducing discomfort. The procedure requires only moderate sedation or local anaesthesia, addressing parents’ concerns on the risks of general anaesthesia.
“The motivation behind the development of CLiKX is to significantly reduce the recovery time and treatment cost for patients. By streamlining the manpower and resources required for surgical treatment of OME, healthcare resources could be deployed more efficiently for other treatments and procedures in hospitals,” said Assoc Prof Tan.
The battery-powered device, weighing only 185g, could also make grommet-placing surgeries more accessible for patients in underdeveloped regions where proper healthcare infrastructure is not always available.
The team aims to conduct the first clinical trial in Singapore in 2018 and launch the device in the market by 2020.