Noel L. Cohen Award for Significant Contributions to Otology and Neurotology

Through a generous gift from our late colleague, ANS has established the Noel L. Cohen, M.D. Award for Significant Contributions to Otology and Neurotology. The establishment of the award is a fitting tribute to Dr. Cohen — a gifted physician, surgeon, academician, educator, administrator and a leader. His contributions brought distinction to Otology & Neurotology, New York University, and our society. The first recipient of this esteemed award, Dr. Thomas Balkany, was announced at the 55th Annual virtual Fall meeting on Sept 12, 2020. 

Derald E. Brackmann, MD

Want to learn a bit more about our fabulous recipient!? Read on...

I was born and raised in a small village in central Illinois.  I graduated from high school and attended the University of Illinois in Champaign, before entering medical school at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  I then completed an internship at Illinois Central Hospital prior to entering the United States Air Force, where I served in California and Thailand.  Following my Air Force duty, I completed a residency at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and a fellowship at the House Ear Institute and Clinic, following which I entered private practice at the House Ear Clinic, where I have been my entire career. 

In addition to my clinical practice of otology and neurotology, I have been active in clinical research throughout my career.  Early in my career, I was actively involved in the early development of electrophysiologic testing of the auditory system.  I tested the electrophysiologic potentials of both normal and diseased ears.  Particular attention was focused on changes that occur in Ménière’s disease and also detection of acoustic neuromas.  Working with Dr. Weldon Selters, we were the first to identify a delay in latencies that occur in brainstem responses with acoustic neuromas and developed the parameters for detection of these tumors, which are still in use today. 

I was also active in the early days of cochlear implantation.  We developed the promontory stimulation test to identify patients with neural survival who were candidates for the cochlear implant.  Working with the team at the University of Utah, we implanted volunteers with a hardwired cochlear implant, which allowed Don Eddington to complete his Ph.D. thesis.  This led to the development of a commercially available cochlear implant, some of which are still in use today. 

I have also been active in auditory brainstem implant (ABI) research and continue that activity until today. Early on, we developed a hardwired, multichannel auditory brainstem implant.  This research eventually led to a fully implantable, multichannel ABI that continues to provide hearing for patients without auditory nerves, such as patients with bilateral acoustic neuromas from neurofibromatosis type 2. 

Because of my involvement with the auditory brainstem implant, I also have an intense interest in neurofibromatosis type 2.  I treat many of these patients and have also been involved as a co-investigator in a drug trial for RAD001 for treatment of growing tumors in neurofibromatosis type 2. 

I have also had a keen interest in facial nerve disorders.  As a resident, I performed a prospective study of a possible viral etiology for Bell’s palsy.  I was unable to prove a viral etiology, but that is still the most popular theory as to the cause of this disease.  My interest in quantifying the recovery of patients with facial nerve paralysis led to the development of a facial nerve grading system.  Working with Dr. John House, a facial nerve recovery system was developed that bears our names.  It is in worldwide use and is in fact the most cited reference in all of the literature from year to year. 

My clinical research and clinical practice activity have led to the publication of more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, for which I have been the author or co-author. 

Throughout my career, I have been active in teaching at the resident and fellow levels.  I have been clinical professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and neurosurgery at the University of Southern California and have been involved with resident teaching at LA County Hospital for more than 35 years.  I have been active in fellowship training and have been involved in the training of more than 100 fellows in neurotology.  During their second year of fellowship, the fellows spend six months with me, during which time they are taught clinical and surgical neurotology.

I have been the editor or co-editor of nine books in the field of otology and neurotology.  The books are circulated worldwide, and, in fact, one book on otologic surgery has been translated into Chinese.

When I was a medical student and newly married, my wife and I spent three months on a medical mission in Malawi, Africa.  More recently, I began to investigate the availability of otologic care in this East African country of 14 million people.  I found that there was only one otolaryngologist in the entire country, and his clinic was ill-equipped.  Seeking donations from industry as well as private donations, I was able to equip the otology clinic in Malawi and in October 2014 spent two weeks there establishing the clinic and performing otologic surgery. My wife and I returned to Malawi in 2018 to continue this work. 

I have also performed humanitarian work in El Salvador and also gave a course and performed surgery in Mumbai, India.  Working with Dr. William Hitselberger, my neurosurgeon, we performed an auditory brainstem implantation in Sweden, which was the first implantation performed in Europe.  I have also worked in Australia and the Middle East. 

I have served on many committees in the subspecialty organizations I belong to.  I have been chairman of the Hearing and Equilibrium Committee of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and a member of a task force on subcertification of the American Otological Society.  I have been a member of the Committee on Facial Nerve Disorders of the Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and a member of the editorial boards of the journals Otology and Neurotology and The Laryngoscope.   For these many activities in the Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, I have been awarded the Distinguished Service Award. 

I am a member of all the societies of my specialty and have served as president of the Los Angeles Society of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the American Neurotology Society, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the North American Skull Base Society, the International Skull Base Society, the American Otological Society, and the Triological Society.  Among the honors and awards I have received are membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, honorary membership in the Otolaryngology Society of Australia, honorary membership in the British Academy of Otolaryngology, recipient of the Burroughs Wellcome professorship in England, alumnus of the year University of Illinois Medical Alumni Association, honorary member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Gold Medal Award of the Prosper Meniere Society, the Award of Merit of the American Otological Society, the House-Hitselberger Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Neurotology Society, and the Alumni Achievement Award of the University of Illinois.

I have been guest of honor at the Portman Foundation in Bordeaux, France; the British Academic Conference in Otolaryngology in Manchester, England; the 4th Rotterdam International Skull Base Conference, the North American Skull Base Society, the American Otological Society, the Pacific Coast Oto-Ophthalmological Society, the International Skull Base Society, the Triological Society, and the Seventh International Symposium on Acoustic Neuromas. 

Presently, I remain in active practice of neurotology and otology.  My research interests are primarily in neurofibromastosis type 2 and the auditory brainstem implant.

About Dr. Noel L. Cohen 

Dr. Cohen’s education and training was marked by distinction. He received his B.A. from the University Heights College in the Bronx in 1951.  Subsequently, in 1955, he received his M.D. from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. It was in Holland that he met his wife, Baukje.  Between 1957 to 1959, Noel served as Lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve. He first joined the NYU family in 1959 as an ENT resident and, following completion, he stayed on as faculty in 1962.  

At NYU, Dr. Cohen’s career flourished as did NYU under his leadership. Little known is that early in his career, Noel was an accomplished thyroid surgeon before choosing the path that would lead him to become one of the leading cochlear implant and acoustic neuroma surgeons. A natural leader, Dr. Cohen became Chair of the Department of Otolaryngology in 1980, a position he held until 2003 – an impressive 23 years! In 1997-1998, he served as Interim Dean of NYU School of Medicine.

Under his leadership as Chair, the department grew in national and international stature. He established the NYU Cochlear Implant Center and built it into one of the largest clinical and research cochlear implant programs in the world. His landmark VA Cochlear Implant study established the superiority of multichannel cochlear implants over single-channel device. He was one the early pioneers in the clinical application of auditory brainstem implants. In addition to cochlear and brainstem implants, he built one of the largest acoustic neuroma programs on the East Coast.

A distinguished surgeon and speaker, he was highly sought after as guest, participant, and lecturer, throughout the world. In 2003, in recognition of his many contributions to medicine, he was awarded an Honorary M.D. from University of Freiberg. Though he will forever be remembered for his innumerable contributions, his friends and colleagues will fondly remember him for his kindness and humanity.  The establishment of the Noel L. Cohen Award is a wonderful tribute to our late friend and colleague and will forever associate his name to significant contributions in Otology & Neurotology.  It will serve to honor those amongst us whose contributions reflect an enduring commitment to scientific innovation and medical advancement in our field.

2020 Thomas J. Balkany, MD
2021 Robert K. Jackler, MD
2022 Bruce J. Gantz, MD
2023 Derald E. Brackmann, MD