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      Improving cochlear implant fitting to help understand speech in noisy backgrounds

      This study should lead to a significant improvement in outcomes for people with cochlear implants.

      This is a PhD studentship being carried out by Terry Nunn in the laboratory of Dr Debi Vickers at the UCL Ear Institute. His project started in October 2015 and will finish in September 2019. The project is being jointly funded with Advanced Bionics.


      Today’s cochlear implant (CI) users typically have many settings (within their speech processor) programmed to default values, calculated from average measures.

      And, as cochlear implant design has improved, many users can now correctly hear more than 90% of sentences when they're in relatively quiet environments. However, for many, their listening 'performance' in more challenging situations, such as trying to make out what a quiet speaker is saying, or when up against background noise, is still often very poor, with large variation between users.

      It's essential therefore, to make sure that cochlear implant fitting practices can be individualised to each user. A more-individualised approach to how cochlear implants are fitted will allow the NHS to optimise its CI services – and improve a person’s chances of success with their cochlear implant.


      The main aim of Terry's project is to determine whether individualised settings, matched to each cochlear implant user’s needs, will improve their ability to understand speech in different listening situations, such as when speech is quiet, or in the presence of noise. Terry is presenting CI users with a range of spoken sentences at different loudnesses and levels of background noise, while adjusting their settings to see if their listening can be improved.


      As more and more people are receiving cochlear implants – there are around 14,000 people with cochlear implants in the UK alone, a figure that is growing each year – it is essential that fitting procedures are appropriate for all recipients. We're very excited that Terry's research at UCL could help us optimise the fitting process, allowing more individuals to harness the full potential of their implants, and have better hearing in more-challenging listening situations. Manufacturers can implement new ways of programming implants quickly, so people should benefit quickly from the outcomes of this project.