Bionic Ear

The Cochlear Implant, or Bionic Ear, has taken up to 80% of the world cochlear implant market during the last 2 decades. Professor Graham Clark’s from Melbourne determination to find a way out for the world’s profoundly and severely deaf people, together with precision implant technologies by Australian company «Cochlear Limited», have given thousands of people with hearing impairment opportunity to actively communicate in modern crazy world that is highly reliant on sound.

At first Professor, Clark from the University of Melbourne was intending to create an artificial hearing device for his deaf father. He thus got down to work, assisted by a faithful research team, in developing a device that would electrically stimulate nerves inside the inner ear which had to cause hearing sensations.

In 1978 Clark’s research team made Rod Saunders the first patient in the world who received a multi-channel cochlear implant. This first surgery was performed at Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, Melbourne. Such achievement previously was considered impossible since cochlea (inner ear) is innervated by 10,000 to 20,000 neurons in a complex system, which was supposed to prevent speech understanding with a small number of electrodes. Such perception within scientific community made the development difficult, and Professor Clark and his team had to seek sponsorship from the general public to continue their work.

The multiple-channel cochlear implant, which is the result of Clark’s and his co-workers’ discoveries, is considered «the first sensorineural prosthesis to effectively and safely bring electronic technology into the direct physiological relationship with the central nervous system and human consciousness». More than that, it is the first cochlear prosthesis to offer priceless gift of speech understanding to severely-to-profoundly deaf patients and spoken a language to children born deaf. Besides, Clark’s team succeeded in engineering speech processor of such small size that the smallest patient can wear it.

Clark proved the safety of implant by means of performing a series of experiments on animals. His tests confirmed the minimal risk of obtaining meningitis from middle ear infection if a sheath of fibrous tissue was made around a single-component multiple-electrode array, and this process was simplified with a fascial graft.

After the first successful surgery, Australian Government issued public interest grant to the project that contributed to the development of Bionic Ear industrially by Australian company «Cochlear Limited». The prosthesis entered a commercial stage in 1982 after Graham Carrick received the world’s first commercial 22-channel cochlear implant. It was the first implant for clinically tested worldwide. International trials established that the device was safe and effective and in 1985 US Food and Drug Administration has approved the device – the first multiple-electrode Bionic Ear to be approved by any world regulatory body.

In 1985, Clark’s team installed the first multiple-electrode Bionic Ear to a child. This Bionic Ear was industrially created by «Cochlear Limited» in co-operation with the University of Melbourne and Bionic Ear Institute. This was the beginning of a worldwide practice for Bionic Ear and its application in young children. US Food and Drug Administration and other international regulatory bodies have confirmed the device as safe and effective for use in children born deaf or developing hearing in early life in 1990. It is considered by many people the first major achievement in helping profoundly deaf children to communicate during the last 200 years since Paris Deaf School has established sign-language.

Today over 50,000 hearing-impaired patients in more than 120 countries have received such prosthesis, and «Cochlear Limited» is taking leading position in the field. Indeed, the company has now concentrated on early childhood applications, creating implant designed to provide infants necessary possibilities during the most critical early period of psycho-linguistic development.