Tinnitus trials: participants wanted

St James’s Hospital is looking for participants in a clinical study

St James’s Hospital is looking for participants in a clinical study, sponsored by Neuromod, to test a treatment designed to gradually reduce the symptoms of tinnitus, using a device that’s designed to “down-regulate” how the brain perceives the sound, effectively turning down the volume of the tinnitus.

“Tinnitus is kind of an orphan syndrome. Patients are always coming in to me and saying, nobody does any research on tinnitus, why is there no research being done? And so that’s part of why I got involved in this,” says Dr Brendan Conlon, ENT (ears, nose and throat) consultant at St James’s Hospital.

“What we’re trying to do is put in bimodal somata sensory stimulation, so we’re stimulating the auditory nerve and the trigeminal nerve simultaneously. And what we think is happening here is that when you tag a bimodal stimulation, you down- regulate the areas in the brain that are up-firing for the tinnitus.”

About 350 patients will take part in the Tinnitus trials, which is expected to last for about three months. Participants will take home the device and use it for an hour a day. The clinical research team will monitor their progress, and they’ll return to the hospital for regular assessments over the three-month period.


“We’ll be looking at various stimulation patterns, which is the most effective, and how one stimulation pattern compares to the other, and how that influences the loudness and impact of the tinnitus on them. And we’ll be following them up in the long term.”

Conlon hopes that if he finds the right stimulation pattern, it might help recalibrate the brain so it doesn’t perceive the noise. “The ear is picking up sound all the time and feeding it into the brain. Even in complete quietness, the auditory nerve is sending signals in using a million fibres. If something happens to your cochlea, your inner ear, and it gets damaged, those fibres now are no longer sending those signals into the central auditory processing system, which is a complex series of networks that go all the way up to the brain where you understand sound. So when the brain stops getting that feed peripherally, those central auditory processing areas start firing up themselves. They take off on their own. That’s what we think happens with tinnitus.

“It’s a little bit like phantom pain; somebody loses their hand and then they feel pain in the hand, because they’re not getting that peripheral sensory input from the hand because it’s no longer there, and so you get neural firing from within that part of your brain that’s designed to register your hand.” tinnitustrials.ie