A new experimental device, developed by researchers at University of Michigan, may be able to relieve symptoms of tinnitus by targeting the unruly activity in brain responsible for the phantom sounds patients hear. The experimental device uses precisely timed sounds and weak electrical impulses to activate touch-sensitive nerves, steering the damaged nerve cells back to normal levels of activity.
The researchers have published the results of first animal tests and a clinical trial, including data from 20 patients with tinnitus. The participants of the four weeks long clinical trial have reported that the device reduces the loudness of the tinnitus related sounds, while improving the quality of their daily lives. The control group did not report any improvement to their condition.
“The brain, and specifically the region of the brainstem called the dorsal cochlear nucleus, is the root of tinnitus,” said Susan Shore, the U-M Medical School professor who leads the research team responsible for the study. “When the main neurons in this region, called fusiform cells, become hyperactive and synchronize with one another, the phantom signal is transmitted into other centers where perception occurs.
“If we can stop these signals, we can stop tinnitus. That is what our approach attempts to do, and we’re encouraged by these initial parallel results in animals and humans.”