In a new paper in Science Translational Medicine, a team from the University of Michigan reports the results of the first animal tests and clinical trial of the approach, including data from 20 human tinnitus patients.
Based on years of scientific research into the root causes of the condition, the device uses precisely timed sounds and weak electrical pulses that activate touch-sensitive nerves, both aimed at steering damaged nerve cells back to normal activity.
Approximately 15 percent of Americans have some level of tinnitus, but the worst symptoms occur in about 10 percent of sufferers, according to estimates based on interviews with nationally representative samples of Americans.
Tinnitus is the most common cause of service-connected disability among veterans of the U.S. military. The current approach provides a novel and unique, non-invasive strategy that aims to modulate and correct the aberrant neural pathways that cause tinnitus. After patients had the device calibrated to their own tinnitus symptoms, they learned to apply its earphones and electrodes for a 30-minute session each day.
Every week, the patients took a survey about how much their tinnitus was affecting their lives, and a test of how loud their tinnitus sounds were.