Cochlear implants for hearing impaired get an upgrade

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Cochlear implants provide a sense of sound to a person with severe to profound hearing loss, but they’re not perfect. 

Research students at the University of Texas at Dallas want to change that.

These UTD students are working on what might become the next big thing for people who depend on cochlear implants.

The devices are surgically implanted in the ear and send impulses to the auditory nerve, which carries sound to your brain.

But no implant is perfect.

Dr. John Hansen of the University of Texas at Dallas: “Imagine only getting roughly only 5-20% of an image and being able to decide what you actually see. Most implant recipients are only seeing a very small percentage of the auditory stimuli that you or I might have with full hearing capabilities.”

Students are developing computer algorithms that can be processed into the implant.

Those algorithms help the implant cancel out background noise and students will be able to test their algorithms with a new device that Professor John Hansen says will transform research into cochlear implants.

It’s a mobile research platform built by the students.

They can plug their phone into it and it will send their algorithms saved on their phone directly to the implant already inside someone’s ear.

Dr. John Hansen: “his now allows people to test drive new algorithms on the fly. If they want to have the person go to the supermarket, go to the coffee shop, basically have take home trials, we can allow that now.”

Professor Hansen says this is the first mobile research device of its kind and it won’t be a valuable tool to just these researchers.

They’re building dozens of them to ship around the world to researchers who share their mission of connecting the sense of hearing to those without it.

Dr. John Hansen: “We’re not trying to solve all the problems. What we’re trying to do is make it easier for researchers in the field to have their advancements try to migrate towards cochlear implant manufacturers sooner.”

According to the CDC, about 15% of adults report some degree of hearing loss, and it’s the third most common chronic physical ailment.

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