University of Melbourne Magazine

Cochlear pioneer receives prize

  • Laureate Professor Emeritus Graeme Clark AC has been honoured with one of the world’s most respected science prizes for developing the modern cochlear implant – the “bionic ear”.

    Professor Clark, Honorary Professor, Electrical Engineering and Distinguished Researcher at NICTA, received the Lasker- DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award alongside fellow cochlear developers, Professors Ingeborg Hochmair of MED-EL, Innsbruck, Austria, and Blake Wilson of Duke University, North Carolina, USA.

    In the late 1970s, Professors Clark and Hochmair created prostheses that deployed multiple electrodes and routed particular sounds to different parts of the cochlear. These devices improved the ability of deaf people to understand speech.

    Two decades later Professor Wilson designed a speech-processing strategy that minimised distortions and omissions, enabling implant recipients to understand words and sentences without visual cues.

    In 1982, the first device was implanted, allowing the recipient, Graham Carrick, to hear for the first time in 17 years. Today about 320,000 people worldwide are fitted with cochlear implants.

    The Lasker-DeBakey Awards honour visionaries whose insight and perseverance have led to significant advances that will prevent disease, reduce disability, and diminish suffering.