The Cochlear Implant is up there with penicillin, the black box flight recorder and the Hills Hoist as one of Australia’s most well known inventions and this year it will celebrate its 30th Birthday.
The first successful implant was done on August 1st 1978 and the patient was Rod Saunders who had lost his hearing due to a car accident.
Creator of Bionic Ear, Professor Graeme Clark AC said he was told he was mad thinking he could make a deaf person hear again when he first started working on the implant. “I was determined to make the impossible, possible and I had a lot of pressure riding of the success of the implant. If it didn’t work, I would have been out on the streets.”
Since the first bionic ear was implanted at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital 30 years ago, 120,000 people in 80 countries have benefited from the technology and around 70 per cent of operations worldwide use a model based on the original technology incorporating several technology upgrades over the years.
Director of Audiological Services at the Eye and Ear and Head of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Melbourne Professor Richard Dowell said the dream that deaf children could learn to speak normally is now a reality, but there are still many challenges.
“We need to identify hearing problems early and make sure children and their families receive the right care in the crucial pre-school years. We now know that cochlear implants in both ears provide the best chance for a deaf child to have normal educational opportunities but this brings many technical and funding challenges,” Professor Dowell said.
“There remain basic research challenges to improve the hearing obtained via cochlear implants, particularly to provide better musical appreciation and to regenerate and repair lost and damaged hearing nerves. But overall, cochlear implantation has gone far beyond what anyone could have imagined 30 years ago in providing improved communication to thousands of people around the world.”
On the anniversary of the first multi-channel Cochlear Implant, performed in Melbourne at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, the creator, Professor Graeme Clark will also launch a foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life for deaf people.
The Graeme Clark Foundation has been set up to help put research into practice in as short time as possible ensuring Australia remains at the forefront of cutting edge technologies. The research will not only benefit deaf people, but those with other sensory disorders and related conditions.
The Foundation will also assist in helping financially disadvantaged people obtain an implant. It is also supporting a scoping study by Desert Knowledge Australia to help determine the most important issues that need to be addressed in eradicating ear disease in the indigenous community.