The ringing or hissing in the ears experienced during tinnitus can be debilitating. Although sometimes caused by problems in the ear, research suggests that tinnitus can frequently originate in the auditory cortex – the part of the brain responsible for processing sound.
There is no cure for tinnitus and the current gold standard treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is not widely prescribed and does not work for everyone.
The Wyss Center is supporting a study to investigate whether it is possible for people with tinnitus to reduce the intensity of the noise they experience by learning how to alter their brain activity – a process known as neurofeedback. The ongoing study is in collaboration with researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève (HUG) who are exploring different strategies for neurofeedback and comparing these novel approaches with CBT.
Where we are now
Under the supervision of principal investigator Prof. Dr. Pascal Senn, HUG, we are supporting a clinical trial to compare tinnitus reduction after three different approaches:
- Neurofeedback with electroencephalography (EEG)
- Neurofeedback with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
Only participants whose tinnitus originates in the brain may take part in the trial.
Brain activity is monitored during neurofeedback sessions either using a cap with EEG sensors or an MRI scanner. The participants see their brain activity on a screen, in real time, so that they can learn to regulate the activity of their auditory cortex. If the participants successfully learn the technique it is hoped that they will eventually be able to use it to reduce their tinnitus.
If you are interested in participating in this research, or would like further information, please contact the principal investigator in English or French via NeuroTin@protonmail.ch. Participants must live within one hour of Geneva, Switzerland and be willing to travel once a week for several months. Find out more information about the study here (in French).
If the results of the clinical trial show that people can successfully reduce tinnitus with neurofeedback, the Wyss Center will develop a device that can be used outside the hospital or research lab setting.
The minimally invasive device would slip under the skin of the skull to continuously measure the activity of the auditory cortex. The user would see their brain activity displayed in real time in a phone app. They could then self-regulate the activity of their auditory cortex and reduce the sound associated with their tinnitus whenever and wherever they want.