Major prize win (Issue 17, 2009)


Dr Chyrisse Heine, Professor Graeme Clark, Rebecca French and Dr Tony Paolini

One of the world's major scientific prizes - the Otto Schmitt Award for exceptional contributions to advancements in medical and biological engineering - has been awarded to La Trobe University's Distinguished Professor Graeme Clark.

The prize is awarded every three years by the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering which represents research organisations from more than 50 countries.  

This year’s prize was presented to Professor Clark at the opening session of the World Congress on Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering in Munich, Germany on Tuesday 8 September.

In his acceptance speech ‘The Multi-channel Cochlear Implant-Past, Present and Future’ Professor Clark recognised the contributions made first at the University of Sydney, then the University of Melbourne and Eye and Ear Hospital, then by Cochlear Limited, and then through the creation of the Bionic Ear Institute.

Appointed to La Trobe University late last year, the pioneer of cochlear implant research now heads La Trobe’s Graeme Clark Centre for Bionic Ear and NeuroSensory Research.

The Centre is located on the University’s Melbourne (Bundoora) campus. From here Professor Clark and his team are spearheading the development of the next generation of high-fidelity bionic ear. The aim is to substantially enhance the audio quality of cochlear implants to a point where it may even be possible to achieve excellent musical appreciation. 

‘The research has helped show how the brain codes simple and complex speech sounds, how bilateral stimulation gives more directional sound, and how speech and language develop in young children.’
Professor Clark said his Centre is expanding existing techniques to include recordings from hundreds of brain cells simultaneously, and incorporate these advances in new biomaterials.

‘Research is now being undertaken at La Trobe University to see how to produce the fine temporo-spatial patterns of nerve responses for high fidelity hearing, musical appreciation and hearing in noise, as well as the relation between spoken language and Sign Language of the Deaf,’ he said.

Professor Clark’s team is also examining how deafness and sensory deficits affect brain development, especially for language. He believes the trinity of early diagnosis, hearing aids or cochlear implants, and auditory verbal education will help many more children to achieve their true potential.