Public Release: 

'Bionic ear' implanted by Penn surgeons to give hearing to the deaf: FDA-approved device provides the world's fastest hearing technology

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Philadelphia, PA - Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center's Department of Otorhinolaryngology are now surgically implanting the recently FDA-approved "bionic ear," bringing hearing to once-deaf adults throughout the Delaware Valley.

Surgeons and audiologists from Penn are the first in Pennsylvania to implant this device and are participating in current clinical trials assessing the benefits of the new capabilities of the CII Bionic Ear. The Bionic Ear is marketed by Advanced Bionics Corporation under the trade name CLARION® CII Bionic Ear®. It can deliver sound information directly to the hearing nerve up to 1 million times a second- significantly faster than conventional cochlear implant technology- which delivers sound information under 20,000 times each second.

"The Bionic Ear is a great advance in cochlear implant technology," said Douglas C. Bigelow, MD, senior neurotologist at Penn who, along with neurotologist Michael Ruckenstein, MD, has implanted over 100 profoundly deaf adults with cochlear implants. Dr. Bigelow serves as Principal Investigator in the proposed clinical study of the CII Bionic Ear. "The new advanced speech processing strategies used in this implant have the potential to help people with severe to profound hearing loss regain much of their hearing. The improvement in quality-of-life that this technology offers can be quite dramatic."

Conventional cochlear implants do not have internal electronic memory banks and control electronics to store hearing programs directly in the implant. Therefore, they rely on the external sound processor to continuously transmit all hearing program instruction to the implant electronics.

Continuous transmission of hearing program parameters occupies much of the data and information pipeline to the implant and leaves limited room for the transmission of detailed sound signal. As a result, conventional cochlear implants can deliver only a small, custom subset of full sound signals to the hearing nerve, and must discard many of the important fine details of speech and sound.

The high resolution CI Bionic Ear can directly store all hearing program parameters in the internal electronic memory banks, leaving the data and information pipeline open for the fine details of sound. This advance design allows the miniature sound processor to be dedicated to transmitting the full broadband signal to the powerful electronics of the Bionic Ear, resulting in more and better sound information delivered to the hearing nerve in much greater detail.

"Today, more and more patients achieve higher levels of speech understanding in shorter periods of time. The CII Bionic Ear System can offer patients fuller sound signals at faster speeds," said Michelle Montes, MS, coordinator of cochlear implant services in Penn's department of Audiology. "These advancements have the potential to provide more detailed speech and sound information with improved fidelity. The CII technology will undoubtedly contribute to growth in patient benefit and provide an invaluable platform for future cochlear implant improvements. It's exciting to be a part of this process."

Candidates for the new Bionic Ear include children who are born deaf and adults who have lost their hearing. Most health insurance carriers, including Medicare, cover the cost of the implanted device and surgery. The surgery, which takes between two and four hours, does require follow-up treatment. Patients will need multiple outpatient appointments with an audiologist.


Editor's Note: Douglas C. Bigelow, MD, along with fellow surgeon Michael Ruckenstein, MD, and audiologist Michelle L. Montes, MS, are all available for comment. Please contact Olivia Fermano at 215-349-5653 in the Office of Public Affairs to arrange interviews.

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