The UK's first operation to fit a single cochlear implant to radically improve the hearing of a severely deaf woman took place today.
The procedure to implant the electronic device and make it possible for the woman, from the Isle of Wight, to hear sound in both ears was undertaken at Southampton General Hospital.
One wire went into one inner ear and the other under her scalp from the single implant into her other ear. Fine tuning is needed over the coming week to see if the four-hour operation was a complete success, but it should give the 44-year-old woman much improved bilateral hearing.
Usually adults only have an implant fitted in one ear which leads to problems in noisy situations or finding where the sound is coming from.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf people (RNID) welcomed the news of the operation.
Audiology specialist for the charity, Crystal Rolfe, said: "There is evidence to show that hearing in both ears helps more than in one ear. As this device is a lower cost than having two implants, it may mean that more adults can receive bilateral implants.
"As this is the first operation of this kind in the UK we look forward to seeing the outcomes and more research into the benefits of these devices.'
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that can help both adults and children who have a severe to profound hearing loss.
It has two parts: an internal receiver/stimulator package and electrode array, and an external speech processor that looks like a hearing aid.
The device uses small electrical currents to directly stimulate the hearing nerve, which then sends signals to the brain where they are interpreted as sound.
The procedure has been developed at the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre (SOECIC), based at the University of Southampton.
Joint head of the centre Julie Brinton said: "Some adults and children have already received two implants, with one in each ear. The difference with the device being used today is that, although information is delivered to each ear, there is only one implant."
Although around 40 of these devices have been implanted in patients in Europe, this is the first of its kind in the UK, the centre said.
The operation was carried out by Mike Pringle, consultant otolaryngologist based at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth.
Mr Pringle said: "This is different to other types of implant as it is one implant going into both ears. It's not unusual for children to have two implants, one in each ear, but adults usually just have one.
"This type of device has an internal receiver/stimulator with two wires. One will go directly into one inner ear and the other will go over the top of the head, under the scalp, to reach the other inner ear. There will be a microphone on each ear collecting sounds from both sides.
"The advantage is that it allows adults to have bilateral hearing. Having two ears working makes it easier to hear in noisy backgrounds and also helps with localisation, or hearing where sounds are coming from.
"Also, because there is only one processor and one internal receiver stimulator, this makes this device significantly cheaper than two separate implants."
The recipient of the implant, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been deaf all her life and used hearing aids until now.