About Graeme Clark
“In spite of the problems and criticisms, I just had to go on. A cochlear implant was their only hope of ever hearing.”
That was Professor Graeme Clark’s way of thinking - never give up on finding a way to help the profoundly deaf hear.
It was his deaf father's struggles that ignited this determination. Professor Clark grew up seeing the hardship of living in silence - including the frustration, anguish and resulting isolation. He also witnessed his father’s desire for a greater connection to others, and was determined to make it possible.
In the mid-1960s, while working as an ear surgeon in Melbourne, Australia, Professor Clark came upon a scientific paper by Blair Simmons in the US. It described how a profoundly deaf person received hearing sensations through electrical stimulation, but no speech understanding. The seed was planted, and in 1967 he began researching the possibility of an electronic, implantable hearing device: a cochlear implant.
Though creating an implant seemed like an impossibly tall order, Professor Clark dedicated years to its research and development. His colleagues said a cochlear implant wouldn’t work because the inner ear was just too complicated. Others said that there were unknown risks. There was also the lack of funding and the technological challenge of fitting electrodes into the tiny inner ear.
But the chance to give those living in deafness the gift of sound urged him on. For over a decade he continued his quest with a small team. Finally, his research was put to a test. In 1978, the first cochlear implant surgery took place. And he and his dedicated team discovered in 1978 how speech could be coded with multi-channel electrical stimulation. Professor Clark’s determination had paid off.
From his success, Cochlear Limited was born. Its purpose: to make Professor Clark’s innovative multi-channel cochlear implant commercially available all over the world. Today, hundreds of thousands of severely or profoundly deaf children and adults worldwide have received a cochlear implant from Cochlear. Thanks to his relentless dedication, they’ve all been given the opportunity to interact more fully with their world.
Professor Clark is still actively involved in the advancement of cochlear implants. In 1985, he founded and directed until 2005, The Bionic Ear Institute, an independent, non-profit, medical research organisation that partnered with the University of Melbourne and Cochlear. He then became the first Distinguished Professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, and has been doing research with the University of Wollongong in New South Wales under an Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence on Electroactive Polymers to develop an advanced electrode to interface with the auditory nerve fibres going to the brain. Now that this is making progress he has returned to the University of Melbourne where he has not only continued as a Laureate Professor Emeritus, but has been made an Honorary Professor in the School of Engineering and a Distinguished Researcher at NICTA (National Information Communication Technology Australia). In this role he is helping to develop mathematical models of the brain pathways for sound and improved cochlear implants.
Together, Professor Clark and Cochlear continue to explore new avenues in technology and deliver first-to-market innovations that help the deaf hear with more clarity and ease. In 2013, Professor Graeme Clark was honoured with the prestigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.