World-renowned hearing expert Professor Bob Cowan has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to industry-research collaboration by Cooperative Research Australia (CRA) at its Excellence in Innovation Awards at Parliament House in Canberra last Thursday night (March 31).
Cowan, a University of Melbourne professorial research fellow and managing director of HEARnet Clinical Studies, led the Australian Government-funded HEARing Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) from 1992 to 2019, bringing together industry, public sector, and university collaborators.
He has been recognised for his ground-breaking work over three decades in raising awareness of the economic costs and benefits of addressing prevention and improved remediation of hearing loss in children, adults and the aged.
Under Cowan’s leadership, CRC technology outcomes have supported Cochlear Ltd’s world-leading position, and been applied commercially in fitting half the world’s hearing aids, improved hearing in noise for iPhones, protection of hearing of call-centre operators, and automated diagnostic testing for infants.
HEARing CRC clinical research now provides cost-saving efficiencies in hearing services for Hearing Australia, hospital clinics, and private audiologists, as well as on-line self-testing of sound risk-exposure used by thousands of young Australians, and programs to protect hearing for live-music patrons, DJs and musicians, developed in partnership with the music industry and recently featured in World Health Organisation bulletins.
Together with the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), he initiated a world-unique longitudinal cohort study of infants with hearing loss (LOCHI) confirming benefits of newborn screening and early device fitting.
Under NAL, LOCHI continues as a legacy study of HEARing CRC.
Cowan has created a lasting legacy in workforce capacity, investing HEARing CRC commercial revenues to embed 72 PhDs with industry and clinical partners, including Cochlear and hospital services across Australia.
He established a specialist certificate in biomedical research management at the University of Melbourne to equip academics and professionals with research management skills and ensured these skills were taught to HEARing CRC graduate students.
As a leader with Audiology Australia, he brought two World Congresses of Audiology to Australia, and initiated HEARnet Learning as an on-line professional education program translating research outcomes into clinical practice.
Cowan has published more than 140 papers in the fields of audiology, cochlear implants and biomedical management, and holds several Australian and international patents.
“Professor Bob Cowan deserves great credit and recognition for creating a remarkable legacy of collaboration between industry, universities, clinical services and professionals serving the needs of people with hearing loss not just here in Australia and but all around the world,” CRA CEO Jane O’Dwyer said.
“He is an exemplar of the very best of what the CRC Program has to offer the nation, leaving behind a great track record of innovation, worldwide clinical take-up, and commercialization, as well as creating new jobs with a highly skilled workforce of industry-trained PhDs.”
Cowan was thrilled to receive the prestigious acknowledgement.
“It’s a huge honour to accept this award, both for myself and for the many wonderful colleagues from industry, university, hospital, healthcare and early intervention services, all of whom put their hearts and minds into improving hearing loss prevention and healthcare services,” he said.
“The CRC Program shows that through collaboration we can address the major problems facing Australia, and I encourage Government to continue and expand its funding for long-term industry-focused CRC research collaborations.”
Cowan was one of two Lifetime Achievement Award recipients revealed at the CRA Innovation Awards.
RMIT’s deputy vice-chancellor research and innovation, Professor Calum Drummond, was the other recipient.