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New Research Programme to Give Improved Speech Comprehension for Cochlear Ear Implant Patients

Originally Published 26 June 2001

Scientists at the University of Warwick and Keele University have been awarded a major 333,000 pounds sterling grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for a three year project aimed at improving the speech comprehension of people using cochlear ear implants. The award follows directly from research funded by Defeating Deafness - the UK's only medical research charity for hearing-impaired people.

The research is intended to improve the speech recognition of those people already implanted with a cochlear implant. In the UK more than 900 adults and 800 children have a cochlear implant; worldwide there are over 30,000 implantees. Even modest improvements in speech recognition would greatly improve their quality of life.

The research teams have proposed a new design methodology that it is believed will lead to improved speech comprehension for cochlear implant patients. The aim is to quantify the amount of information that is coded by the cochlear nerve in response to electrical stimulation from a cochlear implant and to find ways to increase the information transfer. The expectation is that increasing the amount of information transmitted will increase the speech comprehension of cochlear implant users. The team will use a combination of techniques including computational studies and perceptual experiments with cochlear implant users (in collaboration with St. Thomas' Hospital, London and Advanced Bionics Ltd).The University of Warwick will be responsible for the computational aspects of the project. Keele will be responsible for the physiological and perceptual studies.

As speech comprehension with cochlear implants improves, there is a growing tendency to implant some people who have some residual hearing and get slight benefit from conventional hearing aids. An increase in speech comprehension through this research could therefore enable more people to benefit from cochlear implantation.

Cochlear implantation increases the probability that a child with profound deafness will be placed in a mainstream school and reduces the amount of special support required.

The research will also be of significant scientific interest to all researchers studying neural stimulation, for example those designing implantable visual prostheses.

In parallel with the EPSRC grant, the team from Warwick and Keele have been awarded 43,000 pounds sterling from the MRC for a pilot study entitled "the application of subthreshold stochastic resonance to cochlear implant coding". In contrast to the EPSRC study, the MRC study will be more theoretically based.

For further information contact:

Dr. Nigel Stocks, School of Engineering,
University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL
Tel: 024 76522857

Or Dr. Robert Morse MacKay Institute of Communication and Neuroscience
School of Life Sciences, Keele University. Keele, ST5 5BG
Tel: +44 (0) 1782 583057 Email: