It will be the first study worldwide to match the pitch of sound in devices implanted in both ears, says Susan Waltzman, PH.D. , Professor of Otolaryngology at New York University School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Cochlear Implant Center. While a few other centers have performed bilateral cochlear implants, none has attempted systematically to match the pitch of these devices, says Dr. Waltzman. Altogether, only some 13 patients nationwide have received bilateral implants.
"There is a lot that isn't known about how well bilateral implants work," says Dr. Waltzman. "How much better do patients hear with two implants as opposed to one? If we synchronize the sound in each of the implants, will patients hear better in noisy environments, will the implants create a more natural sound? This study will help us figure out the answers to these questions."
"Just as hearing individuals benefit from the use of both ears, we expect that two cochlear implants will provide more benefit than one," says Noel Cohen, M.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology and Co-Director of the NYU Cochlear Implant Center. "The areas in which we expect to see improvement are in speech understanding in a noisy environment and in enabling the recipient to perceive the direction of sound. While the operation will take approximately 90 minutes longer, the risk is not substantially greater," says Dr. Cohen.
"We will be doing a lot of testing of these devices," says Bill Shapiro, an audiologist at the NYU Cochlear Implant Center, who will be working with sophisticated software to synchronize the *electrodes in each ear.
The NYU patient is a 52-year-old secretary who has been deaf since April 2000. A hearing aid did not provide any help. She experienced a rapid loss of hearing in both ears, a kind of hearing loss called sensoineural, which involves damage to tiny hair cells in the cochlea. The hair cells translate mechanical vibrations into an electrical signal that will directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The cause of the patient's hearing loss is unknown.
Cochlear implants bypass the hair cell defects and carry signals directly to the auditory nerve. The device, which is implanted behind the ear, carries electrodes that are threaded into the cochlea, a snail- shaped structure in the inner ear. She will receive two Nucleus 24 Contour Cochlear Implant Systems.
NYU Medical Center has one of the most experienced Cochlear Implant Programs in the United States. Since 1984, 684 hearing impaired adults and children have received the implants at NYU.