Spanish honour for bionic ear pioneer

Spanish honour for bionic ear pioneer

06 May 2010

The founder of one of La Trobe University’s newest research centres – cochlear implant research pioneer Distinguished Professor Graeme Clark AC – is to be honoured by one of Europe’s oldest, and most prestigious universities.

graeme-clark-03On Friday 21 May 2010, Professor Clark will receive an honorary doctorate from Zaragoza University in Spain. Last year this honour went to French Nobel Prize physicist, Professor Albert Fert.

The La Trobe University Graeme Clark Centre for Bionic Ear and NeuroSensory Research was set up in 2008 to advance leading-edge research into the physiology of electrical stimulation of the hearing nerve.

It aims to achieve high-fidelity hearing with a cochlear implant by developing new electrodes so that people will be able to discern speech more clearly in noisy environments – and even learn to appreciate music. Working with cognitive psychologists, the La Trobe centre is also studying how to achieve the best language and communication outcomes for children with cochlear implants.

In Spain, Professor Clark will be recognised for his pioneering research, carried out at the University of Melbourne during the 1970s, to develop the multi-channel cochlear implant. Developed commercially by Cochlear Limited, this became the first clinically successful interface between the world of sound and human consciousness – the first means of providing speech understanding to profoundly deaf children and adults.

Professor Clark is now continuing his research in Bionics at La Trobe University through his Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence. He is working with Centre Director, La Trobe Associate Professor Antonio Paolini, who has made advances in the physiology of electrical stimulation of the hearing nerves in preparation for the next generation of cochlear implants.

This research is in collaboration with the Intelligent Polymer Research Centre at the University of Wollongong. Led by Professor Gordon Wallace, the Centre is using nanotechnology and smart plastics to develop these stimulating electrodes.   

Professor Clark has received many honours for his work on the bionic ear as, over the past 20 years, the Australian designed implant captured some 70 per cent of the world market. More than 120,000 cochlear implants have been performed in 100 countries.

But he says the Zaragoza University honour is particularly gratifying because of historic connections with his field.  Established in 1542, Zaragoza is one of the oldest universities in the world.

‘One of its distinguished graduates,’ says Professor Clark, ‘was the Spanish doctor, Ramon y Cajal, a founder of the scientific study of the brain, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1906. Cajal was the first to describe the complex nerve supply to the inner ear.’

Professor Clark and his team worked out how to stimulate these nerves though electrical impulses to provide artificial understanding of speech via cochlear implants.

Contact:
Professor Graeme Clark

Phone: 03 9479 1691
Email: graeme.clark@latrobe.edu.au

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