World-first imaging system for cochlear implants

Monday, 11 November, 2013

A world-first brain imaging system has been launched at the Australian Hearing Hub, located at Macquarie University. The system will allow researchers in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) and HEARing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) to see how the information processed by cochlear implants is interpreted by the brain.

Macquarie’s Professor Stephen Crain, director of the CCD, explained that the system uses magnetoencephalography (MEG), a technique which maps brain activity by recording magnetic fields produced by electrical currents occurring naturally in the brain. The university was already home to two MEG systems, but they weren’t suitable for people with cochlear implants (CIs).

Thus, a new and unique system was designed which could distinguish the tiny signals emitted from the brain from the larger signals emitted by the CI. It was funded by Macquarie, HEARing CRC and Cochlear, and installed at the Hearing Hub by the Applied Electronics Laboratory of the Kanazawa Institute of Technology, Japan.

Not only will the system allow brain imaging for those with CIs, such imaging will also be used for vital research into the field. Associate Professor Robert Cowan, the CEO of HEARing CRC, said, “The CI MEG will for the first time provide clear insights into how the brain processes information from a cochlear implant. This knowledge will be invaluable in developing new cochlear implant speech coding strategies for tonal languages or music perception.”

The first use of the new system will be to examine 10 children who have unilateral cochlear implants. It will go on to study the brains of toddlers, the elderly and more, in the hope of improving technology and services and solving the major public health problem of hearing loss.

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