Ingeborg J. Hochmair and Erwin Hochmair not only conducted the foundational research to develop the multichannel microelectronic cochlear implant, they built a successful international company, MED-EL, that now brings the restorative power of their innovation to people with hearing loss everywhere. The WHO states that 466 million people have disabling hearing loss, 34 million of them being children. This poses an annual global cost of $750 billion, the WHO estimates. Beyond that cost, of course, is the far greater cost experienced by individuals with hearing loss. The wind in the trees, a conversation with friends, music—most of us enjoy these sounds daily but millions hear them faintly or not at all. In children who suffer from hearing loss the first few years of life, the brain cannot fully develop. To help, the Hochmairs created a new device, the multichannel cochlear implant, which effectively restores the experience of sound to people with hearing loss. Deafness was known as a condition that could only be cured by a miracle and researchers prior to the Hochmairs had achieved some results, but true hearing and understanding remained elusive. Then, in the late 1970s, the Hochmairs developed the multichannel cochlear implant, which was a breakthrough. Their work, combined with new advances in auditory coding, suddenly enabled many patients to communicate without lip reading or direct visual contact with their interlocutors. After this successful start, the Hochmairs gained experience as consultants for 3M, addressing each key issue before going to work on their next, this time commercial, implant while founding MED-EL. In just three years, they not only developed a new generation of implants but created the manufacturing technology, conducted animal studies and safety tests, obtained medical-device approval, established a clinical network, and promulgated surgical training for the implantation of their devices. The breadth of their achievements—from creating world-leading technology to establishing a global business to pioneering leadership across disciplines—truly distinguishes the Hochmairs and continues to drive their success in bringing the wonder of sound to deaf people around the world.
An IEEE Member, Hochmair is the co-founder of MED-EL Elektromedizinische Gerate GmbH, Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria.