The Cochlear Implant

The World Health Organisation estimates about 278 million people, globally, have a moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. As the population ages and life expectancy increases, the incidence of hearing loss will continue to rise.

The cochlear implant is the only medical device that effectively restores one of the human senses – the sense of hearing.

View the video to learn how sound is heard with normal hearing and how the cochlear implant works.

How natural hearing and a cochlear implant work.
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Professor Graeme Clark pioneered the development of the cochlear implant. Professor Clark conducted fundamental research with a multi-disciplinary team to develop the first multi-channel hearing prosthesis and in 1978, successfully performed the first implantable 'bionic ear' surgery. The commercial development of the concept prototype was conducted through Nucleus, a group of medical technological companies.

Nucleus was a group of companies established by one of the earliest entrepreneurs of technology, Paul Trainor. His vision was to pursue excellence in medical technology through innovative design, development, manufacture and worldwide distribution of cardiac pacemakers, cochlear implants, cardiac defibrillators and diagnostic ultrasound. From the beginning, Trainor implemented a global strategy.

The successful development of the commercialised cochlear implant required interdisciplinary breakthroughs in micro-electronic engineering and neurosensory research. It was funded by the Federal Government with $4M for the development and initial clinical trial, after the project was selected by The Department of Productivity as a project "in the public interest". The first generation of the Nucleus® cochlear implant systems was developed in 1981 in a little over 12 months by a "Tiger Team" led by David Money, and commercially released in the USA and Australia in 1985, after meeting all regulatory requirements. As a revolutionary medical intervention, acceptance was hard to achieve, but clinical champions first in the US and then in Europe and later Asia/Pacific have made the cochlear implant a routine treatment for severe to profound hearing loss.

Since the release of the first generation Nucleus cochlear implant, there have been many improvements in implant and sound processor technology, and, importantly, in recipient outcomes.

Today, profoundly deaf children who receive cochlear implants at a young age can develop language skills comparable to hearing children, and can succeed in mainstream classrooms. Similarly, individuals losing their hearing as adults can continue in their jobs and can enjoy their previous social contact and not feel the need to withdraw from social contact.

Cochlear's fourth generation cochlear implant system – Nucleus® Freedom™ – set new benchmarks in hearing performance when released in 2005.

Today, over 120,000 people across more than 100 countries experience hearing as recipients of Nucleus® cochlear implants.



Department of Otolaryngology, University of Melbourne-Cochlear implant concept prototype


Image of CS22 implant – first commercial implant


Wearable Speech Processor


Nucleus® Freedom™ cochlear implant


Nucleus® Freedom™ Bodyworn and BTE sound processor


  • Australian Constructors Association
  • Cochlear
  • Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO)
  • Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO)
  • Leighton Holdings Limited
  • Resmed
  • Thales
  • ARUP
  • KBR