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Date: 12-10-13

Cochlear implant users can hear music

Cochlear implanted hearing-impaired users have difficulty in listening to music. The reason is cochlear implant does not produce the natural sound. But the recent research by the scientists at University of Washington shows Cochlear implanted users can hear music.
Scientists at University of Washington have developed a new way of processing the signals in cochlear implants to help users hear music better. The users can differentiate sound generated by different musical instruments, Which is not possible in the present-day standard cochlear implants.

Les Atlas, lead researcher at University of Washington professor of electrical engineering says “Right now, cochlear-implant subjects do well when it’s quiet and there is a single person talking, but with music, noisy rooms or multiple people talking, it’s difficult to hear,”
“We are on the way to solving the issue with music.” adds Atlas. Atlas and other researchers are using this technique to make the hearing speech better in noisy environment.

Atlas and collaborator Jay Rubinstein, a UW professor of otolaryngology and of bioengineering, and members of their labs have published their initial findings in the IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering.
Co-authors include Xing Li, who recently completed her doctorate in electrical engineering at the UW; Kaibao Nie, an otolaryngology lecturer and adjunct lecturer in electrical engineering; and Nikita Imennov, who recently completed his UW doctorate in bioengineering.

By fine-tuning the signal processing, they are trying to make their innovation compatible with present cochlear implants which are already in the market, so that those users can improve their music perception immediately.

Researchers are also trying improve the signal processing algorithms so that the users can better perception of pitch and melody, the key ingredients of music.

cochlear implant consists of pair of microphones, speech processor, short-range transmitter, and a receiver/simulator implanted under the skin behind the ear. There is a narrow wire threaded into the inner ear simulating the nerve, bypassing damaged portions of the ear. The implant’s signals are sent to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sounds. Cochlear implant are different from the hearing aids, which only amplify the signal.

Users of cochlear implants perceive words by their syllables and rhythms, but this research enables them to recognise timbre.

“This is the first time anyone has demonstrated increased timbre perception using a different signal-processing system,” said Rubinstein, a physician at the UW Medical Center and Seattle Children’s hospital and director of the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center. “With cochlear implants, we’ve always been oriented more toward speech sounds. This strategy represents a different way of thinking about signal processing for music.”

The researchers working on this project had experience in the field of music, which helped them to achieve this solution.

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