Friday, September 25, 2009

Cochlear Implants

Russ Hobbie and I discuss the ear and hearing in Chapter 13 of the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. Last Wednesday, Russ attended a colloquium at the University of Minnesota titled “Bionic Hearing: The Science and the Experience,” presented by Ian Shipsey of Purdue University. The talk was about cochlear implants, at topic we mention briefly in Section 7.10 on Electrical Stimulation. You can download the entire powerpoint presentation from the colloquium. Shipsey’s story is itself inspirational. On his website he writes “I had cochlea implant surgery in November 2002 at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, IN. The surgeon was Professor Richard Miyamoto. The device was activated in late December. I am now able to hear my daughter for the first time and my wife for the first in 12 years.

In order to understand cochlear implants, you need to understand how the ear works. For a short lesson, you should watch an absolutely incredible video on YouTube. This animation is a wonderful example of what can happen when science education meets modern technology, and it was selected by Science Magazine as the first place winner in its 2003 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. Don’t miss it; especially you Beethoven fans!

Auditory Transduction.
You can learn more about cochlear implants by viewing a video of a lecture by Richard Miyamoto titled “Cochear Implants: Past, Present, and Future,” which you can download from a website about cochlear implants maintained by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health. More information is available on a Food and Drug Administration webpage. Also interesting is a National Public Radio report about cochlear implants.

When I worked at NIH in the 1990s, I used to attend the Neural Prosthesis Program workshops held in Bethesda every fall. I recall listening to the researchers each year report on how they were developing these incredible devices to restore hearing. From those workshops, I gained a great appreciation for cochlear implants, and I have come to view them as a prototypical example—along with the cardiac pacemaker—of how physics and engineering can contribute to medicine.

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