About Graeme Clark
Pioneering research
Graeme Clark is responsible for the pioneering research and development of the Bionic Ear – a multiple-channel Cochlear Implant. The Cochlear Implant has brought hearing and speech understanding to over 200,000 people with a severe-to-profound hearing loss, in more than 80 countries. His research resulted in the first clinically successful interface between the world of sound and human consciousness and has paved the way for many advances in the areas of physical and biological sciences for health care.
 
Graeme Milbourne Clark was born on 16 August 1935 in the New South Wales country town of Camden. His father, Colin, the local pharmacist, had suffered from deafness some years before Graeme was born. As a young boy, Graeme assisted his father to dispense medicines and serving at the front counter. His early experience with a severely deaf father was the catalyst for his effort to do something about assisting people suffering from deafness. His first primary school teacher, Mrs Pat Hider (now Colman) recalls Graeme telling her that when he grew up he wanted “to fix ears”. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
 
Inspired by an article he read in the 1960s about attempts in the United States to electrically stimulate hearing, Graeme left his Ear, Nose and Throat practice in Melbourne to become a research student at the University of Sydney. At 34 years of age, Graeme was appointed as the Foundation Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Melbourne, the first such chair in Australasia, making him the youngest clinical professor in Australia.
 
Professor Graeme Clark was the first person to develop the multi-channel cochlear implant and to have successfully performed the world’s first implant procedure on Mr Rod Saunders in August 1978, at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. In 1985, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first multi-channel cochlear implant. Since that first procedure in 1978, over 5,000 people in Australia and over 200,000 people around the world have received the multi-channel cochlear implant and the gift of hearing. Having restored hearing to adults, many who had once had hearing, Graeme’s attention turned to restoring hearing to children born deaf and never exposed to sound.
 
As Helen Keller notes, “The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus – the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man. Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people”. Professor Clark’s achievement in restoring hearing to adults and children has had a profound effect on the lives of individuals and families. Restoring the sense of hearing in an adult and giving a child the
experience of hearing and speaking, make Graeme Clark a great Australian and a great humanitarian.
Professor Graeme Clark (right) with first implant recipient, Rod Saunders
 
 
       “There were many times during the early stages of my involvement with the bionic ear that I could have given up, but didn’t. In spite of problems, criticisms and difficulties I felt that I just had to go on to explore the possibilities to the very end.Someone had to do it, because it was the only chance that profoundly deaf people could have of being able to hear.”
 
Professor Graeme Clark AC
 
Professor Clark’s achievements have been recognised in some of the major scientific prizes he has received. He is a rarity among scientists, having received three major scientific awards in a separate discipline of science. The Zulch Prize in 2007 was awarded by the Max Planck Society, Germany, for exceptional achievement in basic neurological research; the Otto Schmitt Award was awarded in 2009 by the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering for exceptional contributions to the advancement of the field of medical and biological engineering, and in November 2010 The Lister Medal by the Royal College of Surgeons of England in recognition of contributions to surgical science.
 
Professor Clark’s legacy and impact have been substantial. As the father of medical bionics in Australia, he has trained a generation of hearing scientists and surgeons. He established the first university training in audiology in Australia and he established the Bionic Ear Institute, a leader in bionics research. Commercial development of the cochlear implant was supported by Mr Paul Trainor and the Australian Government which resulted in the establishment of Cochlear Limited, the world’s leading cochlear implant developer and supplier.
 
Professor Graeme Clark has displayed remarkable passion, incredible determination, bold vision and outstanding leadership. His achievements have earned him a rightful place among the greats of Australian science.
 
“I have been impressed by the emergence of the bionic ear as a practical proposition, but even more by the promise for the future that it seems to embody... I feel that it may represent a new benchmark in the understanding of the neural and mental function in terms of their physical components. Perhaps the work will not reach such a climax for centuries, but whatever may eventuate special credit will be made to Professor Clark and his colleagues for their pioneering and successful work.”

Professor Emeritus Sir Macfarlane Burnett,
AK, OM, KBE, MD, PhD (Lond), FAA, FRS,
Nobel Laureate (Physiology & Medicine) 1985
 
 
The 2015 Graeme Clark Oration
Sir Paul Nurse
President of the Royal Society
Highlights
You can learn more about Professor Graeme Clark, including a description of his research behind the development of the bionic ear, by downloading a document here prepared by the ICT for Life Sciences Forum.
 

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