RICHARDSON, Texas (March 30, 2005) – When cochlear implants were introduced in the 1980’s, the prosthetic devices, which are surgically implanted in the inner ear, opened up a world of hearing to many who were profoundly deaf. The implants, which deliver electrical stimuli to the auditory nerve thus providing at least partial hearing, have improved to the point where most patients with the devices are able to carry on a conversation without lip-reading or signing, and some are able to use the telephone.
But the devices are not perfect. Many users have difficulty hearing in noisy conditions, such as those found in a restaurant or other public place. In addition, the simple process of listening to music may be fraught with frustration, having been likened by some patients as hearing “noise with rhythm.”
In an effort to improve the performance of cochlear implants, and the hearing of those who use them, the National Institutes of Health this month provided a faculty member at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) a five-year, $1.5-million grant to program the prosthesis to operate more effectively in a range of listening conditions.
“Currently, cochlear implant patients are fitted with a single program that is used in every listening situation,” said grant recipient Dr. Philip C. Loizou, an electrical engineering professor in UTD’s Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “The goal of the NIH-funded project is to develop new signal-processing algorithms tailored for music and noise. In the near future, we envision patients being fitted with at least three distinct programs – one they can use in relatively quiet environments, one for noisy environments and another for listening to music.”
Loizou’s project will include testing involving cochlear implant patients from the Otolaryngology Department at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. In addition, the study will tap the clinical expertise of UT Southwestern physicians, as well as audiologists at the famed Callier Center for Communication Disorders at UTD.
Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, cochlear implants bypass the outer, middle and inner ear and directly stimulate auditory nerve fibers, which send information to the brain. The devices have proven to be beneficial to children and adults who have severe to profound hearing loss and who cannot hear or understand speech with hearing aids.
The implants were first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1985, and since then more than 20,000 individuals, including more than 8,000 children, have received cochlear implants.
Loizou, who joined the faculty at UTD in 1999, directs two laboratories at the university – the Cochlear Implant Laboratory and the Speech Processing Lab. He earned three degrees (B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.) in electrical engineering from Arizona State University.
The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 14,000 students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at http://www.utdallas.edu/.