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Challenges in Improving Cochlear Implant Performance and Accessibility


Here I identify two gaps in cochlear implants that have been limiting their performance and acceptance. First, cochlear implant performance has remained largely unchanged, despite the number of publications tripling per decade in the last 30 years. Little has been done so far to address a fundamental limitation in the electrode-to-neuron interface, with the electrode size being a thousand times larger than the neuron diameter while the number of electrodes being a thousand times less. Both the small number and the large size of electrodes produce broad spatial activation and poor frequency resolution that limit current cochlear implant performance. Second, a similarly rapid growth in cochlear implant volume has not produced an expected decrease in unit price in the same period. The high cost contributes to low market penetration rate, which is about 20% in developed countries and less than 1% in developing countries. I will discuss changes needed in both research strategy and business practice to close the gap between prosthetic and normal hearing as well as that between haves and have-nots.

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