Look Ma! I’m a human test subject

Last week I participated in my first testing session as a human subject in a research study at Mass Eye and Ear. I sat in a sound booth, the research scientist connected an older Advanced Bionics processor that they can program and tinker with. The first session involved stimulating all 16 electrodes, one at a time, on the electrode array of my internal implant and establishing thresholds for loudest and and softest sounds. The good news is that all of my electrodes are getting good response from my auditory nerve. The device and my brain are working. No jokes about my brain, okay? I did not enjoy the stimulation of electrodes 15 and 16, which are positioned at the base of my cochlea and pick up the highest frequency sounds. They got too loud quicker and the loud sound made me feel momentarily woozy. My theory is that this is the part of my cochlea that has been dormant the longest, perhaps always, and is the least used to sound. I’m fine though. It’s been a week and everything is still working. Plus when I signed the consent forms there’s some language that says, more or less, that they’ll fix me if they break me.

The research is being conducted by a PHD student who is affiliated with MIT. His background is in biomedical engineering. The purpose of the research is to experiment with stimulation of electrodes in the cochlear implant in an effort to reduce current spreading. The hypothesis is that if they can be more precise with how the current is directed when electrodes are stimulated that the speech perception will improve. And who knows there could be other discoveries along the way.

I’ll volunteer every couple of weeks or so. The duration will depend on how the experiments go and my availability. I can opt out at any time if I need or choose to.

I hope I can help. I figure I’ll learn more about the implant and how it works. It will help me better understand what it can and cannot do. I’ll also get a sense of what could be coming in terms of improvements. And if I’m really lucky I’ll get to try some cool beta software that helps me hear even better 🙂