University of Melbourne researcher Joe Tong (left) with George Watson,
one of the first recipients of a bionic ear, who helped with initial research.
George is holding the first portable speech processing unit.
Previously recipients had to be connected to the large computer in
The Australian bionic ear is the result of pioneering research by Professor Graeme Clark and his team in the late 1960s at the University of Melbourne Department of Otolaryngology.
The prototype multiple-electrode bionic ear was implanted in the first adult at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 1978.
The team discovered how to analyse the complex speech signal and present it as electrical stimulation to the hearing nerve so that speech could be understood. They were also successful in engineering a portable speech processor small enough to wear.
As a result of this ground-breaking research, the Australian Government awarded a grant that helped develop the bionic ear industrially by the Australian firm Cochlear Limited.
The first device for clinical trial world-wide was implanted at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 1982. The international trial established that it was safe and effective and it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1985, the first multiple-electrode bionic ear to be approved by any world regulatory body.
In 1985, the Melbourne team implanted the first child with a multiple-electrode bionic ear, which was developed industrially by Cochlear Limited in co-operation with The University of Melbourne and The Bionic Ear Institute.
This was the start of a world-wide trial for the bionic ear and its use in young children. In 1990 it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for use in children born deaf for developing hearing early in life.
The Australian bionic ear has now provided the gift of hearing for more than 150,000 people in more than 120 countries.