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Cochlear Implant Research

Cochlear implants have come a long way since they were first invented, and they continue to improve thanks to research being done at UCI Health. Our clinicians and researchers at the center are continually searching for ways to improve the performance of cochlear implants.

Research milestones

Significant milestones achieved by the members of the UC Irvine team:

  • Five patents in the invention of the cochlear implant
  • Introducing music to the bionic ear
  • Optimizing cochlear implant stimulation to suppress tinnitus
  • Collaboration with the world-renowned engineering and nano-technology center has micro-machined a piano for use in future cochlear implants
  • First cochlear implant performed under local anesthesia in the United States
  • Confirmed the benefits of cochlear implants in patients older than 60, justifying Medicare coverage for them

Current research

Bilateral cochlear implants

Our team is following a large group of patients who currently have bilateral cochlear implants (implants in both ears) to better understand the advantages of them. Placing bilateral cochlear implants requires a surgeon with special expertise and certain equipment.

Implants in patients younger than 12 months

Cochlear implants have been approved by the FDA for patients who are twelve months or older.

In special circumstances, patients under the age of twelve months can be implanted. In these patients, cochlear implants have been placed with great success. Patients who develop meningitis before age one are patients who are implanted at the younger age.

Other research

Under the direction of the world-renowned cochlear implant researcher Fan-Gang Zeng, PhD, groundbreaking cochlear implant research is ongoing at UC Irvine.

Patients from all over the U.S. are participating in the innovative research designed and implemented at UC Irvine.

These ongoing projects include:
  • Developing coding strategies to improve the experience of listening to music.
  • Coding strategies to eliminate tinnitus. UC Irvine researchers are the first to successfully program a special coding strategy specifically for elimination of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in a patient undergoing cochlear implantation for tinnitus.
  • Using ultra-high rate stimulation to closely mimic the stimulation that occurs in the normal cochlea.
  • Innovative coding strategies for better understanding of speech in noise.
  • Comparison of patients with bilateral cochlear implants to those with a cochlear implant on one side and a hearing aid on the other.
  • Developing strategies for a cochlear implant sound simulator.

Other ongoing cutting-edge collaborative research at UC Irvine includes: 

  • Collaboration with the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Dr. Andrei Shkel on the world's first implantable vestibular implant, a device to replace the balance function. 
  • Collaboration with Dr. G.P. Li and Dr. Mark Bachman at the Integrated System Technology Solutions Laboratory at UC Irvine for design of a new generation of cochlear implants.
  • Collaboration with UC Irvine Micro-Electro-Mechanical-Systems (MEMS) Center Micromechanics Laboratory and Dr. William Tang on the design of a new generation of cochlear implant electrode. 
  • Collaboration with world-renowned Auditory Neuropathy researcher Dr. Arnold Starr on understanding and treating auditory neuropathy. Starr is the first researcher to discover the cause of auditory neuropathy.
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