The animal studies from the SONIC Lab have shown that neural beamforming (mSync) with as few as two sensory inputs of sound and body stimulation can elicit significant plasticity within the auditory system relevant for tinnitus treatment. In particular, paired stimulation with sound and electrical ear stimulation with specific inter-stimulus delays can alter neural firing patterns within the auditory brain. Based on these encouraging findings, we are currently conducting a scientific investigation with human subjects suffering from tinnitus. We are presenting paired acoustic and electrical stimulation of the ear at inter-stimulus intervals that are predetermined through EEG measurements on each subject. Through repeated mSync stimulation, we hope to reduce the tinnitus severity in each subject. We monitor the outcome of the experiments using various methods, including the Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI), Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI), Visual Analog Scale (VAS), Minimum Masking Level (MML), EEG responses, and daily journal entries. The long-term goal is to develop an integrated hearing aid device that combines sound and electrical ear stimulation that can treat tinnitus.
In an addition to treating tinnitus, this mSync ear device can also be used to enhance hearing for those with auditory deficits or for improving listening abilities in difficult acoustic environments (e.g., crowded and noisy places). Electrical pulses can be delivered at precise times when sound is being transmitted to the ear, which can increase or decrease the gain in the brain to become more sensitive or insensitive to specific sound features. Another way to view this enhanced hearing device is that rather than attempting to increase or decrease the gain of the external sound presented to the ear, we attempt to increase or decrease the gain within the brain itself to specific sound features that may be difficult to hear or irrelevant at a given time. Furthermore, repeated mSync or paired stimulation over time can drive greater plasticity and potentially better hearing performance within the brain.
Funding: NIH REACH Program, Lions Hearing Foundation, Institute for Engineering in Medicine, MnDRIVE Transdisciplinary Research Program, Discretionary Lab Funds