Pioneers, Passion and Persistence

  • Technology cannot substitute the hearing sense that is the sole human sense technology is able to replace. The miracle device, the cochlear insert, has been able to give the ability and gift of hear to more than 800,000. They would have remained in silence for fifty years.

    What is the best way to help hundreds and thousands of people to regain their hearing?

    The history of cochlear implants is captivating. It tells the story of medical technology, engineering, persistence, passion, interdisciplinarity, cooperation perseverance, persistence and passion.

    Acoustic studies from the beginning

    Composer Ludwig van Beethoven (* 1770) started losing his hearing in his Thirties and ordered tailor-made ear trumpets to remedy his hearing loss. These mechanical amplifiers weren't enough for Beethoven's composer.

    The first account of stimulating the auditory system with electricity is from the early 1800s. Alessandro Volta, who is considered to be the founder of the modern battery, was able to hear bubbling, crackling sounds when he performed some electro-chemical tests on himself using a probe placed in his ear. A century later, two scientists who dubbed the "Wever and Bray Experiment" suggested that it might be possible to restore hearing.

    The first prostheses for acoustic hearing

    In 1957, Andre Djourno, a scientist as well as Charles Eyries, an optologist, placed the first cochlear implant France. It was at this time that the patient was deaf. The patient was able to distinguish the loudness level, but not comprehend speech. Another device, which was implanted into another patient failed shortly after it was implanted. Eyries later quit his research due to interpersonal and ethical conflicts.

    The work of Djourno and Eyries has inspired Dr William House (a Los Angeles-based surgeon) to develop an auditory prosthesis that has a longer lifespan. Dr. House is considered to be the founder of CI Neurotology. He was the one who implanted single-channel cochlear Implants in the year 1961. His results were superior to those of the French team, as his patients could understand just the smallest of words. Unfortunately, medical complications stemming from the technology used forced Dr. House to delay his research for several years.

    In the 40th year of their pioneering research into cochlear implants They were met with harsh criticism. Audiologists and ENT doctors were skeptical that electrical stimulation could restore hearing. They employed stimulation patterns that were distinct from the normal ear neural responses, according to critics.

    Finally, we have achieved success!

    But, cochlear implant innovators across the globe did not quit their work and kept working towards their goals. Ingeborg Hochmair Desoyer, a young doctorate student at Vienna Technical University, was determined to find a cure for the loss of hearing in the 1970s. They looked into the cochlear implant which used multiple channels for stimulation. Their multi-channel cochlear system was successfully implanted in Vienna's General Hospital by Kurt Burian on the 16th of December, 1977. This was the first multi-channel cochlear implant. Eight months after, Graeme Clark (Australian otologist) followed up with his own version. He was able to implant the multi-channel cochlear implant within eight months. Although electrical engineers were the first ones to use this technology, surgeons were just as important. Kurt Burian was not given any instructions regarding how to implant a cochlear. Therefore, he devised his own procedure. He didn't have any imaging tools to assist in the process of preparing. Magnet Resonance Imaging and Computer Tomography, the two most common imaging methods used for surgery for cochlear implants present, weren't available at the time. "This first cochlear surgery was similar to the 1969 first man to walk on the moon," Professor Wolf-Dieterbaumgartner, an ENT specialist at Vienna’s General Hospital, said.

    The technology of Cochlear implants wasn't as advanced as it is today in the 1970s. It could provide sound information and allow users to read lips. But technology improved, especially speech coding strategies. Conny was who was a Vienna resident, was the first person to wear cochlear implants and show open-set speech comprehension without lip-reading in March 1980. Since then, improvements in sound-coding strategies and devices have led to remarkable performance and user benefits.
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    Cochlear implants' commercialization was a result of their popularity. In 1990, Ingeborg Hochmair hired three employees to establish the first manufacturing firm in Europe called Med-EL. The field is growing at an impressive pace and many specialties have developed: bilateral cochlear implantation, binaural hearing, single-sided deafness, Electro-Acoustic Stimulation hearing preservation, and drug delivery to name just some. Multiple areas have seen remarkable advancements in technology.

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