Cochlear implants provide a sense of sound to people who are profoundly deaf, dramatic results for patients who may have been unable to hear for many years or even in a lifetime. But the process of fine-tuning the device for a patient’s optimal hearing could be more efficient and accurate, University of Florida (UF) researchers say.

With the help of a new grant, UF investigators and research partners at Audigence Inc, Melbourne, Fla plan to test the cochlear implant optimization software program they jointly developed with a group of 120 implant recipients and hearing aid users.

"This traditional approach for cochlear implant device tuning has several pitfalls," says Alice Holmes, PhD, a professor of audiology in the department of communicative disorders at the College of Public Health and Health Professions. "First, there are several million combinations of device parameters making it impossible to evaluate a patient’s performance for every possible combination. This method also relies on the patient’s subjective judgment, which is typically variable and inconsistent and may not reflect the best device settings for their speech recognition."

UF investigators, led by Holmes, received a $78,000 grant from Audigence and a matching grant from UF’s Florida High Tech Corridor Council, for a total award of $156,000.

In a pilot study of the optimization software, UF researchers found the new software program resulted in improved performance in all outcome measures, including speech perception and the ability to hear over background noise. Seventeen of the 20 cochlear implant recipients who participated in the research preferred to continue using the new optimized programming over traditional cochlear implant settings. Holmes presented the research findings in September at the Academy of Rehabilitative Audiology’s Institute 2008.

The new software program, known as Clarujust, is the first standard analytical approach to tuning cochlear implants. The program tests the patient’s hearing using actual speech sounds, not the tones used in the traditional tuning process. The software program quickly analyzes the patient’s speech comprehension to determine the best cochlear implant settings for a particular patient.

The idea for the optimization software came when Lee Krause, a computer engineer, received a cochlear implant in 2002.

"I realized during the tuning process that I was never going to achieve my objective of being able to better understand speech," Krause says. "Working with my audiologist, Dr Alice Holmes, I convinced her that there had to be a better way to tune the device and that we could utilize some of the technologies that were emerging associated with artificial intelligence to help us solve the problem."

Krause founded Audigence and worked to develop the software with Holmes; Rahul Shrivastav, PhD, an associate professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders in UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Purvis Bedenbaugh, a former UF professor.

The researchers’ new study will focus on evaluating and refining the optimization procedure for cochlear implants and researching techniques to improve speech intelligibility for digital hearing aid users.