This object, together with the prototype wearable speech processor, documents a critical step in the development of Australian research that has had continued impact around the world. This research, led by Dr Graeme Clark in the 1970s, formed the basis of Cochlear Ltd, an Australian company which became an international leader in the manufacture and sale of cochlear implant systems. By 2010 over 200 000 people in more than 100 countries had received the implant, which enables profoundly deaf people to hear. This object also represents Australia's ongoing innovation and expertise in developing medical devices and associated precision manufacturing.
This is the second version of the 'gold box' prototype cochlear implant designed for implantation in the second test patient, George Watson, in July 1979. The initial success of this type of prototype in Mr Watson demonstrated Dr Clark's idea for a multiple electrode implant with aerials or inductive coupling of coils across the skin, and the associated speech processing strategy. This provided enough evidence for Dr Clark and his team to gain support for further development and a clinical trial commenced in 1982.
The subsequent failure of this type of implant in George Watson also provided valuable information. It influenced the selection of Nucleus (Telectronics), with their expertise in sealing electronics for pacemakers, to undertake further development of the implant for clinical trial. According to Professor Graeme Clark, 'When Nucleus was selected as the company, I was able to give them knowledge of the failure. The reason for the failure of George's device was incorporated into the design and testing for the clinical trial device.' *
The first commercial implant developed by Nucleus (which later became Cochlear) received US FDA approval in 1985. Over the next 25 years the company continued to innovate and by 2010 Cochlear had developed their fifth generation implant, which at 3.9mm thin was the world's thinnest cochlear implant.
*Professor Graeme Clark, Powerhouse Museum interview 6 Dec 2010