Triangle researcher wins Lasker Prize for cochlear implant work

From staff reportsSeptember 9, 2013 

— A Triangle researcher who made important improvements to cochlear implants for the hearing-impaired will receive this year’s Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, which is often a precursor to the better-known Nobel Prize.

Blake S. Wilson worked for RTI International for 23 years and established the cochlear implant program at Duke University, where he is co-director of the Duke Hearing Center. Wilson will share the award with two other researchers, Graeme M. Clark of Australia and Ingeborg J. Hochmair of Austria, who developed early implants for the cochlea, the part of the inner ear where sound is converted into nerve impulses.

The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation will award the prize in New York on Sept. 20.

Among previous winners, 83 have also won the Nobel Prize, including 31 in the past two decades, according to Duke University, which, along with the Lasker Foundation, announced the award. Wilson is an adjunct professor in three departments at Duke: surgery, biomedical engineering, and electrical and computer engineering.

The devices developed by Clark and Hochmair helped hearing-impaired patients hear, but few who wore them could understand speech without visual cues, according to Duke. In the late 1980s, Wilson developed a cochlear system that allowed patients to understand words and sentences much more clearly.

“I am thrilled to win this magnificent award along with Graeme Clark and Ingeborg Hochmair,” Wilson said in a statement. “Indeed, they are the foremost living pioneers in the development of the modern cochlear implant, and I am proud indeed to be in their grand company.”

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