Director's Colloquium

Science, Technology and the Cochlear Implant

Jim Patrick

Jim Patrick
Senior Vice President, Chief Scientist

This presentation will review the evolution of the cochlear implant over the past 40 years, from a preliminary program of multidisciplinary basic research, conducted by Graeme Clark and his team in an climate of extreme academic scepticism, to the globally accepted treatment for severe to profound hearing loss that Cochlear delivers today.

Laboratory studies with experimental animals explored the neurophysiology of hearing and how electrical stimulation of the peripheral auditory nerve could be used to generate hearing percepts after loss of the sensory cells in the inner ear This was accompanied by studies that demonstrated the long-term safety of this kind of stimulation and the development of an implantable stimulator, including an intra-cochlear array of electrodes together with complex electronic circuits and the packaging that is needed to protect this electronics against damage from the very hostile environment inside the body. Subsequent psychophysics studies with human volunteers explored how different patterns of stimuli were perceived and how the cochlear implant could encode speech signal information to supplement lip-reading.

These research findings led to financial support from the Australian Government for the development of a 'clinical' product, with the intent from the beginning that this should be marketed globally. The Nucleus group, led by Paul Trainor, was selected as the commercial partner. Nucleus was a world leader in cardiac pacing, with state-of the-art implant device technology and a global commercial network. Cochlear was established under Nucleus in 1981, and the first Cochlear product received FDA regulatory approval in the US in 1985, with subsequent approvals in Europe and Asia Pacific.

Since then there has been a dramatic increase in electronic processing power with circuits that are also more electrically efficient. Researchers have used this enhanced processing capability to develop new signal processing algorithms that improve performance, while the signal processors have moved from the belt to behind the ear. Today, adult recipients use the telephone, while infants who are born profoundly deaf and implanted while they are still very young will develop language at a normal rate, attend normal school, and should achieve their full potential. The cochlear implant changes lives. This presentation will review the diverse contributions that have resulted in the cochlear implant of today and assess the scope of the work that will enhance it in the future.

Professor Jim Patrick D.Eng, FTSE, FIEAust, CPE is Chief Scientist at Cochlear Limited and recognised as a world authority on cochlear implants. He joined Professor Graeme Clark’s research team at Melbourne University in 1975. With training in physics and communications engineering, and an interest in how electrical stimulation might be used to help people hear, he led the successful development of 'UMDOLEE', the ten channel cochlear implant developed by the Departments of Otolaryngology and Electrical Engineering.  Since 1981 he has been a member of Cochlear's senior management team, holding a number of technology management roles, including responsibility for R&D, Quality and Manufacturing. Currently, Jim is responsible for Cochlear's global research programme, exploring how novel forms of signal processing can improve the performance of the cochlear implant, and how advances in biology and electro-neural interfaces can be applied to future implant designs.  He has an honorary appointment as Associate Professor, The University of Melbourne.

Please join us for refeshments prior to the Colloquium at 11:30am in the RSPE tearoom

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