January 30, 2015

Wayne State University researchers collaborate for new treatment for tinnitus

Tinnitus, a prevalent public health problem that affects millions of people, serves as an alert system that something is wrong in the auditory system. It can be caused by a number of health conditions, side effects of medications, exposure to noisy environments or to bomb blasts. There is no cure for tinnitus, but temporary intervention treatments such as dietary modification, centrally acting medications, noise-masking, tinnitus retraining therapy, neuromonics and electrical stimulation are available to help people cope.

A team of researchers at Wayne State University is exploring a promising new treatment that may help suppress tinnitus, and has received a two-year, $421,000 grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health. The project, Cochlear Electrical Stimulation to Suppress Tinnitus, will develop an animal model that will help optimize stimulation strategies for tinnitus suppression, elucidate the mechanisms underlying cochlear electrical stimulation, or CES-induced tinnitus suppression, and guide the development of new and effective cochlear implants dedicated to tinnitus suppression.

The team, led by Jinsheng Zhang, Ph.D., professor and research director of otolaryngology in the School of Medicine and professor of communication sciences and disorders in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Yong Xu, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering, will explore a new design for cochlear implants typically used to restore hearing loss.

"Our project will introduce a novel thin-film-based cochlear implant that we hope will be more effective for optimizing tinnitus suppression," Dr. Zhang said. "We will first explore whether cochlear electrical stimulation helps to suppress tinnitus in our animal model, then we will identify how this CES-induced suppression occurs to improve clinical trials for tinnitus management."

"Along with electrical stimulation, the cochlear device we have developed can deliver chemical and optical stimulation," Dr. Xu said. "This feature will provide unprecedented neural modulation capability, ultimately providing improved therapies for tinnitus and potentially other neurological diseases."

Dr. Zhang and Dr. Xu's ultimate goal is that their novel cochlear implant will guide them in developing new devices that will be effective in suppressing tinnitus, an often debilitating condition.

The award number for this NIH grant is 1R21DC014335-01.