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Two Laskers and Counting: Learning From the Past Enables Future Innovations With Central Neural Prostheses

  • Hubert H. Lim
    Correspondence
    Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 612 626 4565; fax: +1 612 626 6583.
    Affiliations
    Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Minnesota, 312 Church Street S.E., NHH 7-105, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA
    Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, University of Minnesota, 516 Delaware Street S.E., PWB 8A, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA
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  • Robert V. Shannon
    Affiliations
    Department of Otolaryngology, University of Southern California, 806 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007, USA
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Published:October 29, 2014DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brs.2014.10.016
      Andreas is a young boy who was born deaf. Since he has no auditory nerves, he could not benefit from a cochlear implant (CI). A CI is surgically placed in the cochlea and sends electrical currents to surrounding auditory nerve fibers to elicit hearing sensations. When Andreas was three years old, he received an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) [
      • Colletti L.
      • Shannon R.V.
      • Colletti V.
      The development of auditory perception in children after auditory brainstem implantation.
      ]. The ABI is similar to a CI but consists of an electrode array that is placed on the surface of the auditory portion of the brainstem. Today, Andreas is 10 years old and can understand speech well enough to attend school with his normal hearing peers. He is even starting to learn to play the guitar. This remarkable case is one of many that show how electrical stimulation of the brain can restore function. Like many innovations, however, the ABI was met with skepticism and low expectations during its development. There were doubts that the complicated circuitry of the brainstem could be artificially stimulated to restore useful hearing and whether the ABI would be successful in children. Since 1979, visionaries such as William House, William Hitselberger, Douglas McCreery and Vittorio Colletti, pushed forward through these hurdles [
      • Schwartz M.S.
      • Otto S.R.
      • Shannon R.V.
      • Hitselberger W.E.
      • Brackmann D.E.
      Auditory brainstem implants.
      ,
      • Sennaroglu L.
      • Ziyal I.
      Auditory brainstem implantation.
      ,

      Eisenberg LS, The contributions of William F. House to the field of implantable auditory devices, Hear Res (in press).

      ]. It is now clear that we underestimated the ability of the brain to adapt to a highly non-normal pattern of neural activation from an ABI [
      • Colletti L.
      • Shannon R.
      • Colletti V.
      Auditory brainstem implants for neurofibromatosis type 2.
      ,
      • Matthies C.
      • Brill S.
      • Varallyay C.
      • et al.
      Auditory brainstem implants in neurofibromatosis type 2: Is open speech perception feasible?.
      ]. More than 1200 deaf people, including children as young as one year, have been implanted with the ABI. Many are able to understand speech and talk on the telephone.
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