The Bionics Institute
The Bionics Institute is an independent, not-for-profit research organisation working in the field of medical bionics.
To lead the world in the development of innovative bionic health solutions through research.
- Research, innovate and deliver bionic technologies that improve human health.
- Undertake high quality research that spans the biological, physical, engineering and medical sciences to achieve clinically relevant outcomes and train and inspire the next generation of researchers.
- Ensure our knowledge, technologies and skills provide an effective pathway from world class research to advancing the Australian medical bionics manufacturing industry.
Using a multidisciplinary approach, the Institute’s research aims to deliver new solutions to major health problems and builds on years of research experience and technological expertise in cochlear implants. The Institute brings together researchers from a diverse range of disciplines and collaborates with eminent clinicians from Melbourne’s major hospitals to ensure that our work and bionic technologies result in clinical outcomes.
The Institute is focused on providing bionic solutions for otherwise untreatable or drug-resistant conditions of the nervous system. Our three research programs - Bionic Hearing, Bionic Vision and Neurobionics - encompass the improvement and development of devices to address hearing loss, severe vision impairment and a range of intractable central nervous system and psychiatric conditions.
Our research aims to develop new technologies and strategies that will improve the performance of cochlear implants and other hearing devices. Specific projects include:
- Designing new sound processing strategies to enhance the perception of music and the perception of speech in noisy environments.
- The development of an automatic system to program cochlear implants, particularly important for those too young to provide feedback as to a sound’s volume.
- The development of non-invasive and objective measures of hearing to improve detection and diagnosis of hearing problems, improve the fitting of cochlear implants and hearing aids and understand the variability of outcomes in users of these devices.
- The development of techniques to introduce therapeutic drugs into the inner ear to support or halt the degeneration of the hearing nerve following deafness.
- Investigation of neuroplasticity and how the brain responds to long-term electrical stimulation.
Our research aims to develop safe and effective retinal prostheses for blind patients. In 2012 and as part of the Bionic Vision Australia consortium, three patients with retinitis pigmentosa were implanted with Australia’s first prototype bionic eye. The Institute used its engineering expertise and experience in safety and biocompatibility studies to establish safe surgical procedures and effective electrical stimulation strategies for this prototype device. Ongoing research is evaluating the visual perceptions evoked by the device and is testing the safety and effectiveness of the next generation wide-view device (for navigation) and a high-acuity device (for more detailed visual images). We are also investigating novel stimulation methods to create ‘virtual’ electrodes in retinal prostheses.
Implantable devices are being developed to detect, predict and suppress abnormal neural activity in the brain or elsewhere in the body. Such devices incorporate many of the successful elements of the cochlear implant and insights obtained from the ongoing development and testing of the prototype bionic eye. Our current research is focused on:
- The development of an advanced deep brain stimulation (DBS) system to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
- The development of a safe and effective diagnostic device for epilepsy and blackouts.
- Optimising outcomes in movement disorder patients with existing DBS devices.
The overall goal of our neurobionics research is to develop a sophisticated and flexible platform technology that can be tailored to treat a wide range of neurological disorders that have not responded to conventional treatments, including certain severe psychiatric conditions (e.g. obsessive compulsive disorder).