Oz researchers begin quest for 'hi-fi bionic ear'

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Melbourne, Dec 17 (ANI): Professor Graeme Clark, who pioneered the world's first multi-channel bionic ear thirty years ago, is all set to lead the quest for a new 'hi-fi' ear at Melbourne's La Trobe University.

On December 17, Clark unveiled an early prototype of the next generation of electrode fibres to stimulate hearing.

He claimed that it was "time to scale the next mountain," reports The Age.

And the announcement was made on the 30th anniversary of a world-first in cochlear implant technology, which proved that a deaf person could be helped to understand speech.The multi-channel cochlear implant was the first device to reliably give speech understanding to severely and profoundly deaf people, and spoken language to children born deaf.

And in order to develop the next step in cochlear technology, the Graeme Clark Hearing and Neuroscience Unit in La Trobe University's School of Psychological Science will bring together specialists in hearing, speech and language.

Even Clark will return to his first love - auditory neurophysiology - as a distinguished professor at the university.

While the development of the high-fidelity ear would progress in stages, but Clark was hoping that the first results would come in five years.

"I should think that - if we have the funding, of course - we should see a progression in hi-fi ears over the next five years or so. I would hope that ... we will see the children and adults getting better quality sounds and music and better hearing of noise," he said.

Clark said the Australians behind the original cochlear implant had achieved what most scientists around the world said was impossible.

La Trobe's advanced hearing and auditory neuroscience laboratory will investigate how the brain responds to sound and how to reproduce this process using bionic devices.

Also, the facility will help in examining how deafness and sensory deficits affect brain development, especially for language.

Clark claimed that work had reached a "very good'' plateau over the past nine years but researchers were still only "about 40 per cent the way there''.

"You might say in cricketing terms, we've got first innings points but we want an outright win. Ideally, I would like to see a cochlear implant completely embedded with no outside speech processing so that you really wouldn't know someone had anything other than normal ... hearing," he said.

He added: "That's still a way off but we're getting there. We're doing our very best and this is what I think this centre is going to do: keep Australia to the fore." (ANI)

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