Research into treating tinnitus with coloured light could lead to a personal medical device under a Design Council-supported scheme.
Scientists from Leicester University and UK company Orthoscopics will work with designers from the public body to explore ways in which research on the treatment could be commercialised for use in the home.
The researchers have conducted a study that found around 40 to 45 per cent of patients reported that their tinnitus was reduced by around 50 per cent when looking at an area of coloured light illuminated by Orthoscopics’ LED ‘Read Eye’ lamp.
Although the exact mechanism for how this happens is unknown, Leicester’s project leader Dr Mike Mulheran said that it may be due to the unusual light the lamp produces, which mixes red, green and blue colours with very specific or ‘tight’ frequencies.
‘We think it may be selective attention by the brain to this that results in less perceptual processing being given to tinnitus — which is another unusual and “unnatural” signal,’ he told The Engineer.
More research is needed to establish details, such as how long the effects last, but the team ultimately aims to adapt the treatment for home use and in varying environmental conditions.
‘This may be a modified Read Eye lamp, with memory and simple programming functions,’ said Mulheran.
‘The actual design of the lamp may take a number of configurations depending on the specific user environment.’
The treatment, which the Orthoscopics researchers came across while using the Read Eye lamp to prescribe tinted lenses for migraine sufferers, appears to involve the interaction of sensory signals in the brain.
This cross-sensory integration means that information from one sense can alter the brain’s perception of stimuli from other senses, although scientists have yet to define the exact circuitry involved.
Tinnitus — which affects up to 10 per cent of the UK population — is the perception of sound in the ear without the existence of an external sound, which makes it very difficult to objectively test and treat.
Existing treatments range from acoustic masking with other sounds and talking therapy, to drugs, implants, electro-stimulation and radiosurgery.
The Design Council is providing design support for the project, which is one of four from Leicester University to receive help from the organisation under the 2011 Innovate for Universities mentoring service. Another six universities are also taking part in the scheme.