|Ingeborg J. Hochmair-Desoyer|
|Notable awards||Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award (2013)|
Ingeborg J. Hochmair-Desoyer (born 1953) is an Austrian electrical engineer from Technical University of Vienna. With her husband Prof. Erwin Hochmair she helped create the first micro-electronic multi-channel cochlear implant in the world. In 1980 she co-founded together with Prof. Erwin Hochmair the medical device company MED-EL and serves as its CEO and CTO. In 2013, she was honored together with two more scientists with the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for developing the modern cochlear implant.
Ingeborg Hochmair was born in 1953 in Vienna, Austria. Her mother was a physicist and her father was Dean of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at Vienna University of Technology. Her grandmother was one of the first female chemical engineers in Austria. She commenced her studies at Technical University of Vienna in electrical engineering in 1971 [and was the first woman to do her PhD (with distinction)in 1979]. Her dissertation was on the "Technical realization and psychoacoustic evaluation of a system for multichannel chronic stimulation of the auditory nerve." From 1976 to 1986 she worked as Assistant Professor at the Institute of General Electrical Engineering and Electronics at Technical University of Vienna. She also worked at Stanford University’s Institute for Electronics in Medicine as a Visiting Associate Professor in 1979. Together with her husband she decided to move from Vienna to Innsbruck in 1986 where she taught (first as Assistant Professor and later as Associate Professor) at the Institute of Applied Physics Electronics of University of Innsbruck till 1999. In 1998 she achieved Venia Legendi (Univ. Doz.) in Biomedical Engineering at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of Technical University of Vienna.
The idea of creating a company to develop and manufacture hearing implants was put to effect in the early eighties when she co-founded together with her husband Erwin Hochmair the medical device company MED-EL. The first employees were hired in 1990 and mark the beginning of the company. Since 2000 she has founded and co-founded multiple companies linked to the area of hearing loss and hearing implants.
Hearing implant research & work
In 1975 Ingeborg and Erwin Hochmair started the cochlear implant development at Technical University of Vienna with the overall goal of enabling the user not only to hear sounds but also to provide some speech understanding. Together they developed the world’s first microelectronic multi-channel cochlear implant. This implant included a long, flexible electrode, which could, for the first time, deliver electric signals to the auditory nerve along a large part of the cochlea, the snail-shaped inner ear. It had "8 channels, a stimulation rate of 10.000 pulses per second per channel, 8 independent current sources, and a flexible electrode for 22-25mm insertion into the cochlea." The first device was implanted on 16 December 1977 in Vienna by Prof. Kurt Burian followed by a second implantation in March 1978. Despite an early shunt in the first patient and some existing tinnitus in the second patient, place pitch could be demonstrated and the second patient could reliably discriminate and identify stimulation channels.
With a next version of this device modified for better signal transparency, the next milestone in cochlear implant development was reached in March 1980: the understanding of words and sentences without lip-reading in a quiet environment via a small, body-worn sound processor. Over the years, about 500 devices were implanted in adults and children. Owing to the implant’s very low power consumption and external processing, the world’s first behind-the-ear (BTE) processor for a cochlear implant was designed in 1991. It was called COMFORT.
The next major advancement was the development of a high stimulation rate cochlear implant designed to faithfully implement a new speech coding strategy developed by Blake Wilson (Co-laureate of the 2013 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award). From 1994 onwards, this device took its users to the next level of performance. It became the first device with which the majority of postlingually deaf adults achieved more than 50% monosyllabic word understanding within 6 months after implantation as demonstrated in a multicenter clinical trial. This meant that the majority of those implanted could now have conversations over the phone about unknown topics with an unfamiliar speaker.
Respect for the cochlea and its delicate structures have guided Ingeborg Hochmair´s research and development activities towards a highly flexible electrode array preserving the delicate structures of the cochlea despite deep insertion into the cochlea. During recent years, Ingeborg Hochmair and Blake Wilson have collaborated on current topics such as the benefit of bilateral implantation, combined electric and acoustic stimulation, and of cochlear implants for single-sided deafness.
As CEO and CTO of MED-EL Ingeborg Hochmair has developed many world’s first products and solutions to cater to the demand of patients and surgeons worldwide for a broad spectrum of indications of hearing loss. A list of these innovations can be found here.
Ingeborg Hochmair has over 100 scientific publications in the field of Cochlear Implants, Medical Devices, Neuroprotheses, Audio & Speech Processing Technology. Among the most important ones are the following:
- First modern CI (or first microelectronic multichannel CI) : Implanted on Dec. 16 1977 by K. Burian in Vienna, this CI possessed all the main features of modern CIs: microelectronic stimulator circuitry, low power CMOS-circuits, a silicone carrier (body) with multiple electrode contacts, multiple current sources (8) to drive the electrode contacts, electrode designed for round window insertion, high stimulation rate (80.000 pulses per second) / Desoyer I., Hochmair E.: Implantable eight-channel stimulator for the deaf, Proc. European Solid State Circuits Conf. (ESSCIRC) 77, Ulm, BRD, pp. 87 – 89, Sept. 1977/, /Hochmair E., Hochmair I. Verfahren zur elektrischen Stimulation des Hörnervs und Multikanal Hörprothese zur Durchführung des Verfahrens. Patentschrift DE 2823798 patent filed May 1978/, / Hochmair-Desoyer I.J., Hochmair E.S., Burian K.: Four years of experience with cochlear prostheses (invited), Med. Prog. Technol. 8, pp. 107 – 119, 1981/
- Very soft, flexible intracochlear electrode: using waveshaped wires for flexibility as well as pull resistance / Hochmair I, Hochmair E. Multifrequency system and method for enhancing auditory stimulation and the like. US patent 4284856, filed Sept. 1979/, / Hochmair-Desoyer I.J., Hochmair E.S.: Design and fabrication of multi-wire scala tympani electrodes, Annals of the New York Academy of Science, Vol. 405, pp. 173 – 182, 1983/, /Hochmair-Desoyer I. Technische Realisierung und psychoakustische Evaluation eines Systems zur chronischen Mehrkanalstimulation des Nervus acusticus. Dissertation TU Vienna 1981, ISBN 3-85369-491-8/
- Intracochlear electrode for deep insertion: in the beginning up to 25 mm / Hochmair-Desoyer I.J., Hochmair E.S., Burian K.: Four years of experience with cochlear prostheses (invited), Med. Prog. Technol. 8, pp. 107 – 119, 1981/, later on 31mm, then for individual depths
- Auditory only speech understanding can be achieved when good central temporal processing abilities are present / Hochmair-Desoyer I.J., Hochmair E.S., Stiglbrunner H.K.: Psychoacoustic temporal processing and speech understanding in cochlear implant patients, Cochlear Implant, Ed.: R.A. Schindler and M.M. Merzenich, Raven Press, New York, pp. 291 – 304, 1985/.
- First BTE (behind the ear processor) for a CI 1991 / Hochmair-Desoyer I.J., Zierhofer C., Hochmair E.S.: New hardware for analog and combined-analog-and-pulsatile sound-encoding strategies. Progress in Brain Research, Vol. 97, Elsevier Science Publishers, pp. 291–300, 1993/
- The importance of the apical region of the cochlea for better hearing: /Hochmair I. et al. (2003) Deep electrode insertion in Cochlear implants: Apical Morphology, electrodes and speech perception results. Acta Otolaryngol 123 (5), 612 – 617/
- Combining hearing preservation, deep insertion and low frequency (pulse) stimulation to extend the range of electrically evoked hearing to low frequencies /Hochmair I, Nopp P, Jolly C, et al. MED-EL Cochlear implants: State of the art and a glimpse into the future. Trends in Amplification 2006 Dec; 10(4):201-19/
- The importance of being flexible/Hochmair I, The importance of being flexible. Nat Med 2013 Oct; 19 (10):1240-4
Awards and honours
- 1980: Leonardo da Vinci Award
- 1981: Technical University of Vienna honored her with the Holzer-Award.
- 1984: Sandoz Prize
- 1995: She received the title V.C. Business Woman of the Year as Managing Director of MED-EL
- 1996: Wilhelm Exner Medal
- 2004: Together with her husband, Ingeborg Hochmair was awarded the Honorary Doctorate for Medicine from Technical University of Munich as “Pioneers of the hearing impaired technology” for developing the first multichannel cochlear implant with hybrid technology.
- 2010: Honorary doctorate from Innsbruck Medical University
- 2013: Ingeborg Hochmair was honored with the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award together with Graeme M. Clark and Blake S. Wilson for developing the modern cochlear implant, a device that bestows hearing on profoundly deaf people. The apparatus substantially restores for the first time a human sense with a medical intervention. Ingeborg Hochmair was recognized by this award for her early contributions to the field of cochlear implants starting with the development of the world’s first multi-channel microelectronic cochlear implant.
- "Ingeborg Hochmair – Vorzeigeunternehmerin mit Berufung" (in German). APA-Science. 12 September 2013.
- Riedler, Michael (19 May 2001). "Gutes Gespür für's Gehör". Wirtschafts Blatt (in German).
- "Journey to Developing MED-EL's Cochlear Implant: Interview with Dr. Ingeborg and Professor Erwin Hochmair, Founders of MED-EL". Cochlear Implant Online. 19 December 2012.
- "Großer Ehrungstag der Medizinischen Universität Innsbruck im Zeichen Europas". Studium.at (in German). 15 November 2010.
- 2013 Interview on Charlie Rose