Date: March 20th, 2017
Location: Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine
In 2015, the World Health Organization reported the staggering amount of ~360 Mio patients with hearing loss and ~285 Mio patients with vision impairment globally. Moreover, the British Medical Council estimates that ~20% of adults worldwide suffer from chronic pain, illustrating the enormous burden of disease of sensory disorders and highlighting the clinical and economical need for causal and more effective therapies.
Despite of great technical advances in recent years, therapeutic options for hereditary hearing and vision disorders remain largely unsatisfactory. For example, due to technical limitations, current cochlear implants commonly encode the human auditory frequency range of 20 – 20.000 Hz with a maximum of 12-16 electrodes and are hence incapable of providing a satisfactory discrimination of frequencies that would enable the appreciation of music or verbal communication in noisy environment. Novel therapeutic approaches, which combine exogenous gene delivery of optogenetic tools with high-resolution optical neuroprostheses aim to overcome these limitations. Similarly, targeted gene delivery to the retina also promises new therapeutic options for hereditary and acquired ocular diseases. Finally, the treatment of chronic pain still remains a challenging task, largely due to the fact that current pharmacological therapeutics exhibit limited efficacy and strong side effects. In light of these difficulties, latest developments based on chemical genetics might open new avenues for analgesic therapies.
In addition to purely genetic rescue attempts to alleviate sensory disorders, the interconnection of prostheses and the nervous system has become a key discipline that combines precision engineering with neuroscience. This holds true for micro-LED-based cochlear implants, but also a new generation of limb prostheses that aims to restore the sense of touch in amputees and tetraplegic patients by re-establishing haptic feedback as well as surface recognition to improve sensorimotor function and allow more precisely controlled and graded movements.
With this symposium, we aim to bring together leading experts in the fields of audition, vision, pain, and touch research, who will provide an overview of the current state-of-the-art, methodological challenges to be overcome in the future and general perspectives for the respective topics.