Beck: Good morning John. Thanks for meeting with me.
Parker:: Hi Doug. Nice to be here.
Beck: John, please tell me a little about your professional background?
Parker:: My bachelors degree was in biochemistry, I earned that in Australia, and then I earned an Honors Degree in organic chemistry. After working in chemistry for a little while, I enrolled in a doctoral program, but soon after smelling the horrible chemicals, I thought it would be better to earn my doctorate in physics, and thats what I did! By the time I left Australia, I was a Fellow at the Research School of Physical Sciences. I worked in Stockholm, Sweden for a number of years and in 1994, a position opened up at Cochlears R & D division in Australia. I was contacted by a headhunter, and after evaluating the position, I applied and was offered the job, and have been with Cochlear for 11 years now.
Beck: OK, so lets start therewhat has changed over the last 11 years or so in cochlear implants (CIs)?
Parker:: Well, perhaps the major changes have been the application of digital technology to CIs, and the philosophical approach. Eleven years ago, we were still very much in the analog world, and we were still trying to make this a routine intervention. We had success stories, and we were improving performance but without a digital platform each change required a new speech processor. The whole thing changed about the time we released the N-24and then, of course, digital technology took over and made a fabulous difference. The products are reliable, theyre standardized, and the whole industry seems to be really doing well, producing excellent equipment, and taking care of the hearing needs of many thousands of people. So weve matured as a company and as an industry.
Beck: I agree, but despite the maturation, Im happy to say CI innovation is still occurring rapidly.
Parker:: Yes it is. In just the last four or five years, BTE instruments like the Esprit 3G, have really impacted our company, the industry and most importantly, the patients. The patients get incredible results. We have better technology, better cosmetics, better functionality, and so our products appeal to more potential patients, while maintaining compatibility for those patients implanted earlier so the industry is doing very well.
Beck: What can you tell me about Cochlears new Nucleus Freedom system?
Parker:: Nucleus Freedom delivers many new patient benefits and technology advances. Its been designed for use in a very broad variety of environments -- home, school, work and play and adapts to a range of lifestyles. The Freedom sound processor is modular with a sleek BTE unit. Its the first to offer water and sweat resistance passing an international standard as proof, and has excellent battery life, too. In fact, the Freedom uses three 675 hearing aid batteries that last up to 5 days for some users. The body-worn module is amongst the smallest and lightest available today.
The Freedom processor incorporates SmartSound digital microchip technology, which incorporates the capability of 8 of our previous processors. This chip technology is important for adapting to difficult sound environments and its designed to allow upgrades and advances to be imported easily. The Freedom also features a built-in FM systemso it is very pragmatic and efficient. In addition, the Freedom implant incorporates a new and very powerful chip and builds on the market-leading Contour Advance electrode, designed to protect the delicate structures of the cochlea and conform closely to the anatomy of the inner ear.
Beck: Do you have any preliminary outcomes data you can share with us regarding the Freedom? Any studies underway?
Parker:: Our benchmark clinical trial is underway in the USA and initial results are very encouraging indeed. A common theme expressed by many recipients is that Nucleus Freedom provides clearer sound.
Beck: What about totally implantable cochlear implants? Are they just about to emerge or are there more technical barriers that need to be solved?
Parker:: I dont think there are many barriers left for the totally implantable cochlear implants. There are issues such as surgically implantable microphone placement, battery design and instrument life expectancy. Having said that, the most important issues with totally implantable cochlear implants may have more to do with the personal choices and desires than with technical issues. And like all other electronics and prosthetics, the products will improve over time.
Beck: Two key issues among the personal choices may be price and cosmetics. John, where do you think the next major leap forward will come from, with respect to CIs?
Parker:: Well, Im not sure. Id still like to see better and faster processors and better temporal and spectral representation. However, new protocols and paradigms will have to be developed and explored to achieve the next big leap forward. I think we need new thought processes to get to the next level. We need to work with time delay, loudness growth, forward and backward masking, front-end pre-processing, and other parameters to achieve the next big step.
Beck: Have the patients responded to improved speech-in-noise capabilities in the Freedom, now that you have built-in FM with directional mics?
Parker:: Yes. Patients involved in testing have realized terrific benefit through these changes, upgrades and advances. Well soon be releasing new algorithms to better handle speech-in-noise, too. We have many anecdotal reports of patients improved perception of music. The Freedom allows patients to better perceive music for a variety of reasons and we hope that this can dovetail into some work we are doing in China on tonal languages. Weve been able to get more nuances of speech and music to particular users, and thats been very gratifying for them, and for us too!
Beck: John, thanks so much for your time. Its a pleasure to meet you.
Parker:: Thank you, too, Doug.
For more information about cochlear implants, visit www.cochlear.com
For more information about the Freedom cochlear implant, visit www.cochlearamericas.com/Products/17.asp
Beck: Good morning John. Thanks for meeting with me.