Researchers at the University of Michigan have made significant progress in the field of tinnitus treatment with their groundbreaking study on personalized bi-sensory stimulation. By combining individual tinnitus spectrums with electrical stimulation, they have discovered a method that can effectively alleviate tinnitus symptoms and enhance the quality of life for those affected. This innovative treatment, set to be commercialized by Auricle Inc., brings hope to millions of individuals suffering from tinnitus.
Silencing the Hissing Sound of Tinnitus
Tinnitus, often described as a ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound perceived in the absence of external noise, varies in intensity from a minor annoyance for some to a severely debilitating condition for others. In the United States alone, approximately 15% of adults experience tinnitus, with nearly 40% of them enduring chronic symptoms and actively seeking relief through various treatments.
A recent study conducted by scientists at the Kresge Hearing Research Institute of the University of Michigan suggests that effective relief for tinnitus may be within reach.
Led by Susan Shore, Ph.D., Professor Emerita in Michigan Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology, as well as the Departments of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering at U-M, the research focuses on understanding how the brain processes bi-sensory information and how this knowledge can be harnessed to provide personalized stimulation for tinnitus treatment.
The findings of Shore’s team were published in the esteemed medical journal JAMA Network Open.
The study, a double-blind, randomized clinical trial, recruited 99 individuals experiencing somatic tinnitus—a form of the condition where certain movements like jaw clenching or applying pressure to the forehead result in noticeable changes in the pitch or loudness of perceived sounds. Nearly 70% of tinnitus sufferers fall into this category.
According to Shore, participants with bothersome somatic tinnitus and mild-to-moderate hearing loss were eligible to participate.
“After enrollment, participants received a portable device developed and manufactured by in2being, LLC, for in-home use,” she explained. “The devices were programmed to present each participant’s unique tinnitus spectrum, which was combined with electrical stimulation to create a bi-sensory stimulus while ensuring that both the participants and the study team remained unaware of the treatment group assignment.”
The study participants were randomly divided into two groups. The first group received active bi-sensory treatment, while the second group underwent sound-only (control) treatment.
Over the course of the study, which lasted for eighteen weeks, participants were instructed to use the devices for 30 minutes daily during the first six weeks. Subsequently, they took a break from daily use for the following six weeks before returning to receive the treatment they hadn’t initially received for the final six weeks.
Shore highlighted that each week, participants completed the Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI) and Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI), which are questionnaires that assess the impact of tinnitus on their daily lives. Additionally, their tinnitus loudness was evaluated during this period.
The team observed that when participants received the bi-sensory treatment, they consistently reported an improved quality of life, lower handicap scores, and significant reductions in tinnitus loudness. However, these effects were not observed during the sound-only stimulation.
Moreover, over 60% of participants reported a significant reduction in tinnitus symptoms after six weeks of active treatment but not after the control treatment. This aligns with an earlier study by Shore’s team, which demonstrated that the longer participants received active treatment, the greater the reduction in their tinnitus symptoms.
“This study lays the groundwork for using personalized bi-sensory stimulation as an effective tinnitus treatment, providing hope for the millions of individuals suffering from this condition,” said Shore.
Reference: “Reversing Synchronized Brain Circuits Using Targeted Auditory-Somatosensory Stimulation to Treat Phantom Percepts – A Randomized Clinical Trial” by Gerilyn R. Jones, David T. Martel, Travis L. Riffle, Josh Errickson, Jacqueline R. Souter, Gregory J. Basura, Emily Stucken, Kara C. Schvartz-Leyzac and Susan E. Shore, 2 June 2023, JAMA Network Open.
The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders provided funding for this study.
Auricle Inc., the exclusive licensee of the patents related to bi-sensory stimulation, was established with the support of Innovation Partnerships, the central hub for research commercialization at the University of Michigan. Auricle will now work towards obtaining regulatory clearance and subsequently bringing Shore’s novel bi-sensory tinnitus treatment to the market.
To receive updates on the team’s progress, you can sign up for email updates by contacting [email protected].
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about tinnitus treatment
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus refers to the perception of ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds in the absence of external stimuli. It can range from a minor annoyance to a severe impairment in daily life.
What did the University of Michigan study discover?
The University of Michigan study found that personalized bi-sensory stimulation, combining individual tinnitus spectrums and electrical stimulation, can significantly reduce tinnitus symptoms and improve quality of life for sufferers.
How was the study conducted?
The study was a double-blind, randomized clinical trial that involved 99 individuals with somatic tinnitus. Participants were assigned to receive either active bi-sensory treatment or sound-only (control) treatment for specific periods. They completed questionnaires and had their tinnitus loudness assessed throughout the study.
What were the results of the study?
Participants receiving the bi-sensory treatment consistently reported improved quality of life, lower handicap scores, and significant reductions in tinnitus loudness. Over 60% of participants experienced significant reduction in tinnitus symptoms after six weeks of active treatment.
What is Auricle Inc.’s role in this treatment?
Auricle Inc. is the company responsible for commercializing the bi-sensory stimulation treatment developed in the University of Michigan study. They will work towards gaining regulatory clearance and bringing this novel tinnitus treatment to the market.
More about tinnitus treatment
- University of Michigan: Link
- JAMA Network Open: Link
- Auricle Inc.: Link
- National Institute of Mental Health: Link
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: Link