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October 23, 2004

Success fills bionic man with humility

From: Melbourne Herald Sun - Melbourne,Victoria,Australia - Oct 23, 2004

Michelle Pountney
health reporter

NICOLE and Ellen O'Connell yesterday said a big thank you to the man who brought them into the world of sound.

Nicole, 11, and Ellen, 10, thanked Professor Graeme Clarke for inventing the bionic ear, or cochlear implant, they received as toddlers.

The Croydon sisters were born profoundly deaf and are one of just six sets of siblings in Melbourne to be fitted with the implants.

Nicole's deafness was detected at two, and she was fitted with an implant when she was four.

Ellen's was diagnosed at birth and she received her bionic ear soon after her third birthday.

Prof Clarke said it still gave him a thrill to be able to bring sound to deaf people. "It fills me with awe, humility and excitement, and it still makes me want to cry sometimes," he said.

More than 60,000 around the world can now hear after receiving cochlear implants.

Prof Clarke said the bionic ear had started a new discipline of bionics that had the potential to help millions.

"There's a new era in nanotechnology, biomaterials, intelligent polymers, and what we hope to do here in Melbourne is set up a centre where we combine new technology with biology for the benefit of human beings," he said.

Prof Clarke was speaking at the Melbourne leg of Research Australia's Thank You Day campaign to highlight the work of medical researchers. Associate Prof Geoff Head, from the Baker Heart Research Institute, outlined ground-breaking research that could potentially save thousands of lives.

Scientists have known for some time strokes and heart attacks are more likely to happen within three hours of waking. Baker scientists have developed a mathematical method for evaluating the rate of early morning surges in blood pressure.

Prof Head said they wanted to study whether it was the blood pressure level these patients reach, or how quickly their pressure surges.

They found people with high blood pressure had a higher rate of surge after waking than people with normal blood pressure.

Prof Head said they would now use the findings to try to understand the mechanism that triggers the surge, and to identify people at greatest risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the morning.

Research Australia CEO Dr Christine Bennett said we stood at the cutting edge of medical research.

"Every day, every Australian life is impacted by health and medical research whether it's taking asthma medication to play sport, whether it's lying baby on its back to reduce the risk of SIDS, marvels like the bionic ear or putting a seat belt on," she said.

The public can thank researchers by visiting or by sending an SMS message to 0428THANKS.

© Herald and Weekly Times