MuteButton receives funding to trial tinnitus treatment device

Irish start-up MuteButton has secured a €200,000 (£180,000) investment from Enterprise Ireland to accelerate large-scale clinical trials of its tinnitus treatment device and grow its staff to 20 by 2013 as the device nears market release.

MuteButton was established in 2010 by Dr Ross O’Neill, as a spin-out company from the Hamilton Institute, NUI Maynooth, where the technology, a novel medical device to successfully treat people suffering from permanent tinnitus, was originally developed by O’Neill, Dr Paul O’Grady and Prof Barak Pearlmutter.

The company has recently located to NovaUCD, the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre at University College Dublin (UCD), to develop collaborative partnerships with UCD researchers working on neurological conditions.

Tinnitus, commonly referred to as ‘ringing in the ears’, is the perception of an illusory low-level sound in the absence of a corresponding external stimulus to the ear.

Temporary tinnitus, which can be caused by excess fluid or wax in the ear or short-term exposure to loud noises, can be cured. However, permanent tinnitus, which is caused by intense or prolonged exposure to noise, and which is often associated with hearing loss, cannot be cured. It can have a negative effect on the quality of life of sufferers and can lead to insomnia and depression. In addition, no effective treatment for this form of tinnitus is currently available on the market.

MuteButton has developed a non-invasive device that treats the effects of permanent tinnitus. The device, the size of an iPod or iPhone, presents sound to the ear using normal headphones and simultaneously presents this sound as tactile patterns on the tongue using an intra-oral array. This results in neurological mechanisms within the brain suppressing the ringing in the ears of the sufferer for a period of hours.

‘This investment by Enterprise Ireland marks a significant milestone for the company,’ said O’Neill, chief executive officer of MuteButton. ‘It is another step towards the development of an effective treatment for a medical condition that is currently considered untreatable.

‘This investment will enable the company to carry out large-scale clinical trials of the MuteButton device later this year with our clinical collaborator Brendan Conlon, surgical ear, nose and throat specialist at St James’s Hospital, Dublin,’ he added.