We fund research to understand more about tinnitus so we can develop and find ways to treat it.
Our research goals
Seven million people in the UK have tinnitus – a persistent sound in your ears like ringing or buzzing. For many people it can cause serious anxiety and stress, in some cases leading to depression and sleep disorders. There are a number of possible causes, but it’s been most linked to loud noise that can damage the ear and can cause changes to the brain.
We still don’t fully understand what causes tinnitus or how we can stop it. That’s why we need research to understand more about it and find ways to effectively treat it.
We fund research to:
- identify the causes of tinnitus
- understand more about the biology behind it
- develop and test strategies to treat it.
What we’re funding now
Testing brain stimulation as a possible long-term treatment for tinnitus
- Dr Raj Shekhawat
- University College London Ear Institute
Brain stimulation has been tested as a way to treat a number of conditions. It works by altering brain activity to change how it functions. Dr Shekhawat is investigating whether a type of brain stimulation called ‘transcranial direct current stimulation’, or tDCS, can be used to treat tinnitus. He’ll be building on his previous work in this area to test this technique on people with tinnitus.
The project will involve conducting the first trial of tDCS for tinnitus treatment in the UK. The results will help us better understand the biology behind tinnitus – and test whether we could use tDCS to treat tinnitus.
Finding an objective test for tinnitus
- Ekaterina Yukhnovich
- Dr William Sedley’s laboratory, Newcastle University
It’s difficult for us to be able to study and measure tinnitus ‘objectively’. This means measuring it in a way that isn’t affected by personal judgement of the person who has tinnitus, or the researcher investigating it.
If a sequence of short sounds were played one after the other with silent gaps in between, someone with tinnitus will hear an ongoing single sound as the tinnitus sound ‘fills in’ the silent gaps. The sound will change in pitch and loudness because the real sounds being played would be alternating with the tinnitus sound. This alternating can influence how the brain works. You can see these changes by looking at the electrical activity of the brain.
Ekaterina is using a brain imaging method called electroencephalography (EEG). It’s used to measure changes in brain activity of people with and without tinnitus as they listen to sound with silent gaps in it. She aims to investigate whether this can be used as a reliable way to measure tinnitus. This will help us test how well tinnitus treatments work.
Understanding the brain’s ‘volume control’
Our leading research in this area has helped to identify regions of the brain involved in tinnitus. These regions act like a ‘volume control’, amplifying signals from the ear when they are weak and turning activity down when they are strong.
Tinnitus may arise when the brain’s ‘volume control’ becomes set too high. It suggests that we might be able to treat tinnitus by developing drugs or other methods able to turn activity down in these parts of the brain. Many researchers are now focusing on this ground-breaking concept in their work to develop treatments.