Donors Make a Difference: Meet Dr. Miyamoto

April 7, 2015
Topics: Donors, Riley Staff Profiles

Miyamoto blog image
Richard Miyamoto, M.D.

Donors make a difference every day at Riley Hospital for Children. Today, we introduce you to one Riley physician whose pioneering work has been fueled by gifts from generous donors.

Richard Miyamoto, M.D., Arilla Spence DeVault Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, came to Riley Hospital in 1978 from a fellowship in California with cochlear implant pioneer William House, M.D. At the time, the future of cochlear implants was uncertain: “The ear is such a complex organ, many people thought it couldn’t work,” Dr. Miyamoto explains. “But we had a technology that was life-changing, and we needed some patients to show what it could do.” 

Dr. Miyamoto was one of seven co-investigators in the first national trial of a single-channel cochlear implant monitored by the federal Food and Drug Administration. As the only co-investigator affiliated with an academic medical center, the then-junior faculty member also became the group’s spokesperson in Washington. 

Dr. Miyamoto had to build his team in Indianapolis from scratch. His first funding came from the Indiana Lions and from service sorority Psi Iota Xi; later, Virgil DeVault, M.D. set up a research fund for Dr. Miyamoto’s work. Before insurance companies covered them, these private donors paid for patients’ implants and contributed to the body of evidence that led to FDA approval in the mid-1980s.

Riley Children’s Foundation (then called the Riley Memorial Association) funded a rehabilitation specialist to work with the kids. By the end of this five-year grant, Dr. Miyamoto had parlayed Foundation support into five new team members, including audiologists and speech therapists who worked with the patients and collected data.

That led to the National Institutes of Health asking Dr. Miyamoto to submit a grant. With NIH funding undergirding the project, his team produced some important early studies that not only brought insurance companies on board, but also prompted the involvement of international experts. 

While development of multichannel devices and rapidly changing technology has advanced the implants’ performance, Dr. Miyamoto’s research has pushed the FDA’s age limits on implantation. Cochlear implants now allow children to hear in the critical first months and years of life, when their brains are developing speech and language skills, he says: “You look at these little kids, and they’re doing things that deaf people have never done in the history of mankind.”

As Dr. Miyamoto steps down as chair of the IUSM Dept. of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck surgery, Marion E. Couch, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, has been named his successor. “My hope is to build upon the impressive foundation that Dr. Miyamoto established over the years,” says Dr. Couch. “The department enjoys a wonderful national reputation, thanks to Dr. Miyamoto and the faculty and staff."

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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