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May 27, 2005

Cochlear unveils new implant

From: Sydney Morning Herald - New South Wales,Australia - May 27, 2005

Australian hearing implant developer Cochlear has unveiled a new implant system it says will revolutionise the lives of the hearing impaired.

The Nucleus Freedom implant has been seven years in the making and cost $100 million to develop.

Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, Cochlear implants bypass the damaged part of the ear and stimulate the hearing nerve directly.

The new device features four tiny computers designed to give users much better clarity of sound in a range of different situations, from quiet rooms to busy streets.

Unlike its implant predecessor, it can automatically adjust to different noise environments, beaming in on sounds that are important and sorting out those that are not.

Cochlear's chief scientist Professor Jim Patrick said the system represented a true technological breakthrough, calling it a "quantum leap forward in terms of sophistication and design".

"This will revolutionise the lives of the hearing impaired. It's a tour de force," he said.

Len Ulrich, a 68-year-old retiree from Springwood in the Blue Mountains, is one of the first Australians to trial the Freedom implant.

In 1975 he was diagnosed with Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear which causes severe hearing loss, forcing him into an early retirement.

He received a Cochlear implant in July 2003 and started using the Freedom device soon after.

Mr Ulrich said it had totally changed his life, enabling him to get involved in his local community and enhanced his relationships with family and friends.

"The clarity of conversation with my grandkids is so good my relationships have changed. I now speak to them on the phone for hours," he said.

It also has enabled him to enjoy the finer things in life such as classical music, the sound of rain on a tin roof and the call of the bellbirds that surround his house.

"My wife used to always tell me 'the bellbirds are going again', and I could never hear them," he said.

"Now I can, and it's absolutely glorious. It's like I'm transported into the forest."

The Nucleus Freedom implant has recently gained US and European regulatory approval and will be exported around the world.

Copyright © 2005. The Sydney Morning Herald.