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EarLens’ Light-based Hearing Tech Pulls in $36 Million

Redwood City, CA-based EarLens, which has developed a light-based method for delivering sound to the ear, has raised more than $36 million from 22 investors, according to a recent SEC regulatory filing.

Company officials could not be immediately reached for extra details. But the company claims on its website that its technology is a "next generation level of sound performance that yields significant improvements in the ability to understand speech in noise and an overall sound quality that is clearer, richer, and more natural."

EarLens says: "Unlike air conduction hearing aids, the EarLens Contact Hearing Device effectively transforms the user's own eardrum into a speaker, which enables delivery of an ultra-wide frequency range (from 125 to 10,000 Hz) and a higher maximum gain margin."

A behind-the-ear sound processor uses a microphone and a digital signal processor to pick up sound and convert it to infrared light that is beamed at a custom-made "tympanic contact actuator" at the base of the ear canal. (Think a contact lens for the eardrum.)

The EarLens Tympanic Contact Actuator (TCA).
The EarLens Tympanic Contact Actuator (TCA).

The actuator is made up of a thin perimeter film and a small central disk that contacts the eardrum. The energy from the infrared beam first contacts the photo detector, which then drives the micro actuator and tympanic membrane. The vibrations are transferred to the eardrum.

There is no power source on the actuator. Both the power and signal are transmitted by light.

Find out more about the medical device industry--including its technology, supplier networks, and much more--at BIOMEDevice, March 26-27, 2014 in Boston.

The technology has already been garnering attention from a big OEM: Vince Racano, who is vice president and general manager of Medtronic's ENT division, is on EarLens' board, and Medtronic has had a minority stake in the privately held company.

The founder and chief medical officer is Rodney Perkins, MD, a serial entrepreneur and Stanford University clinical professor who founded the university's California Ear Institute.

The CEO is William Facteau, who over five and half years grew ENT device company Acclarent from concept to a 400-employee, $100-million-a-year, profitable company that was acquired by Johnson & Johnson's Ethicon subsidiary for $785 million in 2010.

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker.

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