More for Less: World's First 32-Channel Hearing Implants from TODOC for a Substantially Lower Price

Crossing, years of study and research, an entrepreneur's guts and positive philosophy from Kyou Sik Min, and an LPKF ProtoLaser as enabling technology

Kyou Sik Min, armed with years of research in cochlear implants and novelty materials during his study and parallel work, started TODOC in 2015. A company with a clear vision to help hearing-impaired people access otherwise very expensive implants. He believed that he could offer at least the same quality product for $20.000 less than the average price of hearing implants at the time. Only 5% of the world’s hearing impaired – estimated to be more than 460 million - can afford expensive implants where the costs, together with a necessary surgery, can range from $40.000 up to $100.000. The number of hearing-impaired people rose together with the population. Therefore, the market is huge and growing.

An entrepreneur's path is not always smooth. The initial research was conducted for a very long time to develop cochlear implant electrodes using semiconductor processes and new materials, but they could not overcome the barriers of the biocompatibility and long-term safety of the materials used for semiconductor processes. Step back was necessary to already proven biocompatible materials and drastically improve the available existing processes in cochlear electrode processing.

As etching is not an option for biocompatibility, TODOC acquired LPKF ProtoLaser U3 for chemical-free material processing already in 2016. Changing material to traditional platinum alloy, where the number of electrodes with wires had been, due to the restricted dimension of the cochlear implant, limited up to 22 channels in the best case for already two decades. TODOC team, using LPKF ProtoLaser R4, patterned 16 µm wide lines in 32 µm pitch on platinum alloy film and thus integrated 32-channel contacts and wires in a single process compared to manual fabrication of 22-channel electrode. After several steps of encapsulating the contacts and wires, the electrode array is completed. This breakthrough in expected signal quality, as well as the price range announcement and possible mass production, didn’t remain unnoticed.

In 2021, Kyou Sik Min, CEO and founder of TODOC, was invited to the Entrepreneurship World Cup, where he reached the global finals and won it. He took home a price of $500,000. The reward, next to financial injection for starting clinical tests, helped significantly to the recognition and access to further funding. This way, TODOC won as much as $3.5 million in R&D funding from the Korean government to commercialize our 32-channel cochlear implant within four years.

Implants must pass strict national approvals before being available on the market. The clinical tests started at the end of 2022. Results were already presented at the specialized conference on the topic of cochlear implants, APSCI 2023, in Seoul. Kyou Sik Min and his colleagues are expecting the final approval of the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) to move towards commercialization of the implant with related electronics.

Ramp-up production can be achieved by adding LPKF ProtoLasers R4 to multiply production. It has the ability to process platinum alloys widely used in cochlear implants and other implantable neural prosthetic medical devices without burrs. Platinum alloy samples were successfully microstructured without the toxic chemicals used in semiconductor processes. When patients and clinics will positively accept the product, organic growth is guaranteed in the current cochlear implant market.

TODOC has developed a neuroelectrode technology that is safe for implantation in the human body and can be used to treat various neuropathic and motor disorders, in addition to hearing impairment. ProtoLaser is the ideal solution for creating electrodes that can be applied to different nervous systems in the human body.

TODOC is a Korean word that mimics someone tapping on another person's shoulder.

LPKF ProtoLaser: Pioneering Cochlear Implants - The Inspiring Story of Kyou Sik Min and TODOC's High-Tech Breakthrough


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