Scientists have discovered a device that could relieve the symptoms of tinnitus, such as ringing in the ears. It could silent the persistent sounds by resetting the fusiform cells in the brain.
The findings of the study were published in Science Translational Medicine. The study was led by researchers from the University of Michigan.
The team experimented the device on animals, such as the guinea pigs. Susan Shore, the senior author of the study from the university’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute, said that they had demonstrated in animal studies that particular combinations of sound and pulses could augment or reduce the activity of these fusiform cells that activate the rest of the brain.
According to Mayo Clinic, tinnitus affects about one-in-five people. Tinnitus could be described as an ear injury, age-related hearing loss, or a circulatory system disorder. It has symptoms that include phantom noises such as ringing in the ears, buzzing, clicking, roaring, and hissing. This disorder could be relieved with treatment.
The new study also involved human participants, who had used the experimental device for four weeks. The results showed that the symptoms of tinnitus, such as the loudness of the sounds, decreased. Their tinnitus-related quality of life was enhanced. Two of the human participants reported that their tinnitus had receded completely.
The scientists used an approach called targeted bimodal auditory-somatosensory stimulation that includes two senses. The device through headphones and electrodes was placed on the person’s neck and head. It plays a sound into the ears with mild electrical pulses distributed to the cheek and neck alternately. This could reset the activity of fusiform cells that helps the brain receive and process sounds and sensations, according to Medical Xpress.
Shore explained that the brain, in particular, the brainstem, also known as the dorsal cochlear nucleus, is the root of tinnitus. She further explained that when the main neurons in this region, called fusiform cells, become hyperactive and synchronize with one another, the phantom signal is transmitted into centers where perception occurs.
Shore added that if they could stop these signals, then they could stop tinnitus. This is what their approach is trying to do and they seem positive with the first parallel results in animals and humans.
Currently, the researchers have received a new NIH funding for the further clinical trial. They also hold the patent for the device and are developing it for commercialization in the coming days.