Tinnitus treatment device could become available through NHS

A new tinnitus treatment device is to undergo a UK trial that could lead to the technology becoming available through the NHS.

The German-developed device, which is worn inside the ear, produces an audible sound that is designed to ‘reset’ the neurons in the brain that make tinnitus sufferers hear a high-pitched noise when there is no external sound.

Dr Derek Hoare, a research fellow at the National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing (NBRUH), which is leading the trial, said the study would be a starting point for certifying the device for use in the NHS.

‘[Other devices] use various types of sound but none specifically target a well-hypothesised mechanism of tinnitus, to such an effect that they might just be providing a masking effect,’ he told The Engineer.

The acoustic Coordinated Reset (CR) technology is based on the theory that, following hearing loss, groups of neurons that normally react to sound fire at the same time without external stimulus, almost as compensation for a lack of real signals.

The CR device transmits signal designed to interrupt the neurons’ pattern of activity and force them to fire at random, using an algorithm to determine what frequency of sound to emit based on estimation of the pitch of the sufferer’s tinnitus.

‘If their tinnitus has a pitch of 8kHz, then they’ll be stimulated above and below that,’ said Hoare. ‘They have to be able to hear [the sound] but it’s played at very low level. The idea is that it should be background enough for them to pursue normal activity.’

The device was developed by Adaptive Neuromodulation, a spin-off company from the Jülich Research Centre in Germany, where it has undergone an initial trial.

It is being marketed privately in the UK by The Tinnitus Clinic in London, which is funding the £345,000 randomised control study in the UK to provide a more rigorous and detailed insight into the safety and effectiveness of the device.

Patients will be required to wear the device for four to six hours a day for the nine-month period of the trial. There is not yet enough information to say how long the effects of the treatment last for.

NBRUH is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), which co-ordinates research for the NHS. Researchers at Nottingham University will carry out the study in collaboration with University College London.

Anyone interested in taking part in the study should be aware that volunteers must be prepared to wear the device for four to six hours a day for nine months, in place of any hearing aids already worn, and must not be undergoing other tinnitus treatments. For details please send an email to nbruh-enquiries@nottingham.ac.uk.