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New Device Could Help Silence Tinnitus By Lightly Zapping The Brain

The device, seen here, is small and totally harmless. Susan Shore

The device, seen here, is small and totally harmless. Susan Shore

Tinnitus could be very annoying condition, however, there is now hope that the millions of people currently suffering from the chronic ringing in their ears will be somehow cured .

By application of precisely timed blasts of sound and electrical pulses, this experimental device could “reset” the responsible nerve activity in the brain. The latest research was recently released in the journal of Science Translational Medicine.

Scientists have been making efforts to know exactly about the of cause of chronic tinnitus for a long time. Although it seems that it is kind of “mechanical problem” with the ear, research has made it clear that it’s most likely to have something to do with brain activity, in particular among the fusiform cells that help us gauge where a sound is coming from and phase out background noise.

As Professor Susan Shore, leader of the research team from  the University of Michigan Medical School said, the brain, and specifically the region of the brainstem called the dorsal cochlear nucleus, was the cause of tinnitus.When the main neurons in this region, called fusiform cells, turned to be  hyperactive and synchronize with one another, the phantom signal was transmitted to other centers where perception took place. If scientists could stop these signals, they would get rid of tinnitus. That was just what her team was trying to do. At present, they were encouraged by these initial parallel results in animals and humans.

The device works through an alternating burst of two stimuli in the course of 30-minute session on the daily basis. First, sound is played into the ears through a specialized earphone. The audio stimulus is then precisely alternated with light electrical zaps delivered through electrodes on the cheek or neck. This tickles the fusiform cells to change the rate at which they fire, thereby “resetting” the nerve cells back into normal activity.

The first part of the research was targeted on guinea pigs (yep, actual guinea pigs, not humans), but it was also part of a small double-blind clinical trial involving 21 adult humans. Being treated with daily use of this device for four weeks, most of the humans confirmed that the severity of the phantom sounds had remarkably relieved and two even said their tinnitus was completely gone. Fortunately, there was no patient who had experienced any adverse effects or worsening of symptoms.

To Shore and her team, they were much encouraged by such results, but they had to optimize the length of treatments, found out which subgroups of patients might benefit most, and made sure if this approach was applicable to those patients who had nonsomatic forms of the condition that could not be modulated by head and neck maneuvers.

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