The human ear is an intricate mechanism full of delicate moving parts, which makes it a fiddly thing to fix if something goes wrong. Chronic middle ear disease can lead to infection, pain, hearing loss and perforated eardrums, and patients may need several rounds of surgery to address the problems. Now an Australian team of researchers has developed the ClearDrum, a silk implant that can repair a damaged eardrum with just one procedure.

Currently, the standard procedure for repairing eardrums is a delicate affair. Grafts are made from a patient's own tissue, and then attached to the sensitive membrane through some very precise surgery. Even then, it often requires the patient to come back a few times for additional procedures.

But the ClearDrum could change that. Eight years in development, the implant is made of silk, is about the size of a contact lens and, as its name suggests, it's transparent. On the other hand, maybe the ClearDrum gets its name from the improvements it makes to a patient's hearing, since it can apparently transmit sound even better than the real thing.

The ClearDrum is strong and bio-compatible, meaning it acts as a framework for the patient's own cells to grow over the top, patching up the perforation in the process. That means that rather than requiring return trips to the operating theater, the repair process requires just one procedure, reducing the cost and healing time of the condition.

Developed by scientists in Melbourne and Perth, the ClearDrum is set for human trials in 2018, and the project recently received an AU$4 million (US$3 million) grant from the Wellcome Trust to help bring the device to market quickly.

The team describes the ClearDrum in the video below.