Cochlear Implant Research and Development in the Twenty-first Century: A Critical Update.


Cochlear implants (CIs) are the world's most successful sensory prosthesis and have been the subject of intense research and development in recent decades. We critically review the progress in CI research, and its success in improving patient outcomes, from the turn of the century to the present day. The review focuses on the processing, stimulation, and audiological methods that have been used to try to improve speech perception by human CI listeners, and on fundamental new insights in the response of the auditory system to electrical stimulation. The introduction of directional microphones and of new noise reduction and pre-processing algorithms has produced robust and sometimes substantial improvements. Novel speech-processing algorithms, the use of current-focusing methods, and individualised (patient-by-patient) deactivation of subsets of electrodes have produced more modest improvements. We argue that incremental advances have and will continue to be made, that collectively these may substantially improve patient outcomes, but that the modest size of each individual advance will require greater attention to experimental design and power. We also briefly discuss the potential and limitations of promising technologies that are currently being developed in animal models, and suggest strategies for researchers to collectively maximise the potential of CIs to improve hearing in a wide range of listening situations.