About 320,000 profoundly deaf people worldwide have a cochlear implant to restore their hearing – yet early research in the 1970s had fierce critics who thought that fitting the devices to humans was unethical because there was little hope of success. Fortunately for medical science, the researchers persevered and made huge improvements. The modern implant processes sounds and sends the signals to electrodes surgically positioned inside the cochlea, the snail-shaped hearing organ in the inner ear. Pictured is a cross-section through this fluid-filled spiralling tube, showing the sensitive hair cells (stained blue) that are often missing in the profoundly deaf. Three pioneers of this technology, Graeme Clark, Ingeborg Hochmair and Blake Wilson, will be presented with the Lasker Award for Clinical Research at a ceremony in New York tomorrow.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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