Professor Rob Shepherd, Bionics Institute, Melbourne.
Professor Rob Shepherd was appointed the Director of the Bionics Institute (formerly the Bionic Ear Institute) and the inaugural Professor of Medical Bionics at the University of Melbourne in 2006.
In over 30 years of research he has made both scientific and commercial to the development of safe and effective cochlear implants - a device that today brings the gift of hearing to over 220,000 deaf adults and children worldwide. In recent years he has applied his expertise and multi-disciplinary approach to the development of a bionic eye, and overseen the expansion of the Bionics Institute’s research portfolio to also include the development of a neurobionic platform technology to alleviate a range of central nervous system disorders (e.g., epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease).
Professor Shepherd’s research includes the original pre-clinical safety and efficacy studies used by Cochlear Ltd as part of their successful FDA submission in 1985. His subsequent research on the effects of paediatric cochlear implantation contributed to the FDA approving the Cochlear Ltd device for use in children as young as 2 years of age in 1990. His research continues to explore ways of improving the quality of hearing provided by the cochlear implant and uses a wide variety of approaches including: in vitro and in vivo biosafety studies; chronic electrical stimulation; histopathology and electrophysiology; brain plasticity; and development of novel drug delivery methods to maintain the auditory nerve which degenerates following deafness.
His contribution to this field includes over 180 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, 70 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Quarterly Progress Reports, and over 70 invited key-note presentations at international scientific meetings. The NIH has funded key aspects of his research continuously from 2000-2012 (total of over US$10m); he also receives funding from several Australian funding bodies including the ARC and NH&MRC (total of over $7.7m as CI); and commercial research (over $1.5m).
Professor Shepherd is a CI and leader of the Preclinical Program in a current Australia-wide collaboration – Bionic Vision Australia – to develop a prototype bionic eye within the next few years. This Australian Research Council grant (AU$42m) aims to restore useful vision to people suffering from eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative genetic eye condition. The research team collaborates closely with clinicians, materials scientists and engineers to develop new electrodes, to establish safe biocompatible devices and inform the development of safe surgical procedures and electrical stimulation.