BME Lecture: Blake Wilson, Duke University

Room 3201 Natural Sciences II
Blake Wilson

Duke University
Durham, NC

Title: Development of the Modern Cochlear Implant and the First Substantial Restoration of a Human Sense Using a Medical Intervention

Abstract: In this talk I will describe one of the great advances in medicine, the first substantial restoration of a human sense using a medical intervention. The particular advance is the cochlear implant, which now enables high levels of speech recognition for the great majority of its users. Indeed, most of today’s users can communicate fluently via the telephone, even with unknown persons at the other end and even for unpredictable and changing topics. That ability is a long trip indeed from severe or worse losses in hearing. Such high levels of performance were only obtained in the early 1990s, and before then many experts in otology and auditory science thought that restoration of even marginally useful hearing with electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve was a fool’s dream. I will describe the large steps forward that made the achievement possible, and I will mention some possibilities for making these already-marvelous devices even better.

Bio: Blake Wilson is a co-director (with Debara L. Tucci, M.D.) of the Duke Hearing Center and is an adjunct or consulting professor in each of three departments at Duke: surgery, biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering. He also is the chief strategy advisor for MED-EL GmbH in Innsbruck, Austria. He has been involved in the development of the cochlear implant (CI) for more than three decades, and is the inventor of many of the signal processing strategies used with the present-day CIs. One of his papers in the journal Nature is the most highly cited publication by far in the specific field of CIs. He or he and his teams or colleagues have been recognized with a high number of awards and honors, most notably the 2015 Russ Prize for “engineering cochlear implants that allow the deaf to hear” (Wilson, Erwin Hochmair, Ingeborg Hochmair, Graeme Clark, and Michael Merzenich); the 2013 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for “the development of the modern cochlear implant – a device that bestows hearing to individuals with profound deafness” (Graeme Clark, Ingeborg Hochmair, and Wilson); the American Otological Society’s President’s Citation in 1997 for “major contributions to the restoration of hearing in profoundly deaf persons” (Wilson, Charles Finley, Dewey Lawson, and Mariangeli Zerbi); and the 1996 Discover Award for Technological Innovation in the category of sound (Wilson). Wilson is a Life Fellow of the IEEE, and has been the guest of honor at 14 international conferences, the chairman for two other international conferences, and a keynote or an invited speaker at more than 180 additional conferences. His degrees include three earned doctorates – a Ph.D.and two higher doctorates – plus two honorary doctorates in medicine.

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