University of Melbourne’s cochlear implant inventor wins award

Laureate Professor Emeritus Graeme Clark from the University of Melbourne has been honoured with a 2013 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, for developing the modern cochlear implant, a device that bestows hearing on severely to profoundly deaf people.

University of Melbourne Audiology School
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The awards honour visionaries whose insight and perseverance have led to significant advances that will prevent disease, reduce disability, and diminish suffering, and are among the most respected science prizes in the world.

Professor Clark, Honorary Professor, Electrical Engineering and Distinguished Researcher NICTA has received the Lasker award alongside fellow cochlear developers, Professors Ingeborg Hochmair of MED-EI, Innsbruck, Austria and Blake Wilson of Duke University, North Carolina.

In the late 1970s, Professors Clark and Hochmair created prostheses that deployed multiple electrodes and routed particular sounds to different parts of the cochlear. These devices improved the ability of deaf people to understand speech.

Two decades later, Professor Wilson designed a speech-processing strategy that minimized distortions and omissions, enabling implant recipients to understand words and sentences without visual cues.

Professor Clark was head of the University of Melbourne’s Department of Otolaryngology at the time of the research and said he faced criticism in the early days.

 “Many people didn’t believe it was possible and that it was folly, but I was determined to persist and see it through, and I’m so pleased I did,” the Melbourne professor said, adding that he cannot imagine any technology that has had such a profound effect on transforming so many lives.

In 1982, the first cochlear was implanted and switched on by a team consisting of audiologist Professor Richard Dowell from the University of Melbourne and surgeons Dr Brian Pyman and Dr Robert Webb from the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, with the support of biomedical company Nucleus (Cochlear Limited).

The surgery allowed the recipient Mr Graham Carrick to hear for the first time in 17 years.

Cochlear implants are now assisting approximately 320,000 people worldwide.

University of Melbourne deans from Melbourne School of Engineering and from the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences praised Clark for his research and inspiration.

“We congratulate Graeme Clark and his colleagues for their contribution to society through this groundbreaking technology,” the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences said.

The Lasker Awards carry an honorarium of $250,000 (US) for each category.

About the University of Melbourne’s Master of Clinical Audiology Program

Melbourne Audiology School’s Master of Clinical Audiology focuses on developing professional skills through a large program component of comprehensive clinical training. Clinical skills are supplemented by coursework and lectures that introduce students to graduate-level research methods, while maintaining a strong level of scientific acumen expected of students in the health sciences at the University of Melbourne.

Program: Master of Clinical Audiology
Location: Melbourne, Victoria
Semester intake: February
Duration: 2 years
Application deadline: Sept. 30, 2013, with selection rounds beginning after the closing date.

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