Cochlear Limited launches FDA-cleared, Apple-compatible cochlear implant

By Jeff Lagasse
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Cochlear Limited, which creates implantable hearing devices, has taken a technological leap forward with a device that syncs up with various Apple products.

The Nucleus 7 Sound Processor, which was approved by the FDA in June, is the first cochlear implant sound solution made specifically for use with iPhones, iPods and iPads; it also has the distinction of being the smallest and lightest behind-the-ear cochlear implant currently on the market.

“An iPhone is used every minute of the day nationwide,” said Jan Janssen, senior vice president of research and development at Cochlear. “Taking phone calls, accessing audio-based apps, streaming music and making FaceTime calls are often taken for granted, but for those with hearing loss, this everyday technology can be very challenging. This is especially true for those with cochlear implants who have had to use external devices to successfully complete these tasks.

“Our engineering team at Cochlear has had an ongoing collaboration with Apple’s team to bring to market the first Made for iPhone implantable hearing solutions,” said Janssen. “In 2015, we released the Baha 5 Sound Processor – the first ever made-for-iPhone bone conduction sound processor.”

The Nucleus 7 does for cochlear implants what its predecessor did for bone conduction.

Those with hearing impairments using the technology have the advantage of streaming sound directly from a compatible device to their sound processor. Using their iPhone or iPod touch, they have the option to control, monitor and customize their hearing through the Nucleus Smart App, which is a free download from the App Store.

There are 360 million people living with disabling hearing loss worldwide, and this figure is set to more than triple to 1.2 billion by 2050. According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 72 million people who could potentially benefit from the use of a hearing device including a cochlear implant or hearing aid.

Cochlear President and CEO Chris Smith said in a statement the Nucleus 7 also allows people to listen to music, watch videos and have FaceTime calls streamed directly to the implant.

As for the Nucleus Smart App, it boasts a Hearing Tracker feature that records coil-offs time -- each time the sound processor coil does not detect the implant coil, such as if it has fallen off a child's head -- and time in speech, which measures the amount of time spent in speech environments in hours, including FM and streaming. The Find My Processor feature of the app helps locate a lost sound processor by using Location Services to determine the last place the sound processor was connected to the paired iPhone or iPod touch.
 
Cochlear is also offering the first made-for-iPhone Smart Bimodal Solution (the combination of a cochlear implant in one ear and a hearing aid in the other), enabling both hearing solutions to provide synchronized streaming to both ears from a compatible iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. The Nucleus 7 Bimodal Solution is delivered by using a Nucleus 7 Sound Processor, a compatible ReSound hearing aid and a paired iPhone or iPod touch to control functionality for both hearing devices.

Janssen said that with this bimodal hearing approach, “hearing with a hearing aid in one ear and cochlear implant on the other ear can provide numerous benefits, including music appreciation, sound quality, sound source localization and speech recognition in noise.

“In addition to improved listening skills, recent evidence suggests that a period of bimodal device use may result in improved language outcomes and emerging literacy skills for children receiving cochlear implants,” said Janssen.

The Nucleus 7 Sound Processor is 25 percent smaller and 24 percent lighter than the previous generation Nucleus 6. It also features SmartSound iQ with SCAN and dual microphone technology, helping people to hear more clearly in a wide swath of environments. From a busy restaurant to outdoors in blustering wind, the technology prioritizes voices over background sounds in a noisy environment. A new processing chip also delivers more efficient processing without compromising the battery life -- translating to about 50 percent longer battery life than the previous generation behind-the-ear sound processor.

Commercial availability for the Nucleus 7 Sound Processor is expected in September 2017 in the United States and Canada for those who are looking to receive a cochlear implant. The Nucleus 7 Bimodal Solution is expected in September 2017 only in the United States for those who are looking to receive a cochlear implant. In the United States and Canada, the Nucleus 7 Sound Processor will be available as an upgrade in October 2017 for current recipients with internal cochlear implants such as the Nucleus CI24RE, CI500 and Profile Series implants.

Janssen said the company will “continue our work to bring to market innovative hearing technology solutions that make a remarkable impact on the lives of people living with moderate to profound hearing loss.”