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Coclear implant graphic of nueral paths
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Musical ambitions for cochlear implant

18 November 2016
Young University of Sydney research student wants to help cochlear implants reach musical high notes

The human ear is amazing. It can hear the slightest whisper and tolerate high intensity sounds. But for people relying on hearing devices, the sounds of music can be unbearable.

Young researcher Luke Zhao

Luke Zhao built on the work of Drs Phillip Tran and Paul Wong - photo by Vincent Tsang

Luke Zhao, who will soon graduate with a Bachelor of Engineering (Adv) (Bioelectronics)/Bachelor of Science (Adv) (Neuroscience) degree wants to help deliver higher quality tonal recognition and musical sounds to people using the cochlear implant devices.

An accomplished classical musician and piano teacher, Luke felt compelled to help those living with hearing impairment access the most beautiful sounds possible.

“The world-recognised cochlear device has 80 percent speech perception. But for speech perception with tonal languages, such as Mandarin, it’s less of a success story.

 “We also know people who have damaged cochlea and are recipients of cochlear implants would like to enjoy the sounds music.

Luke, who has worked as a summer intern at Cochlear, says:

“The ear is a wondrous instrument made up of tens of thousands of components, capable of performing extremely sophisticated auditory tasks.

“Two normally functioning ears allow us to make extremely accurate decisions about the exact location of a sound source.

“Higher order processing allows us to decipher complex auditory inputs, such as speech against noisy backgrounds, or the nuanced interplay of pitch, melody, harmony, texture and timbre in music.

“When all aspects of the human ear are considered, the ear is far more complex and sophisticated in design and function than any auditory apparatus that current technology has so far allowed us to develop.

“Cochlear implants aren’t like hearing aids that make sounds louder. The device does the work of the damaged inner ear or the cochlea which provides sound signal to our brains.”

Associate Professor Alistair McEwan, who supervised Luke’s thesis project, says his work investigated the cochlear implant-neural interface to better understand sound perception in Cochlear implant recipients.

“He built on the work of previous researchers who modelled the anatomy of a human head with an implanted cochlear device. Luke extended this work bridging the anatomy and tissue property of the cochlear to the neural response.”

 

Graphic of Cochlear implant

Luke has been invited to present the findings of his thesis research to the International Medical Bionics 2016 Conference in Brisbane Monday 21st November. The conference brings together eminent and early career researchers, engineers, clinicians and industry representatives working in the field of medical bionics.

Victoria Hollick

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