Researchers at the University of Arizona in the US have made a breakthrough in their study on tinnitus in mice which could eventually lead to a cure in humans. According to the study published in the journal PLOS Biology, blocking a specific protein that fuels brain inflammation in the mice stopped the condition in its tracks.
The treatment works on a molecule called TNF-A (tumour necrosis factor alpha) that disrupts communication between neurons. When this communication is disrupted, neuro inflammation is halted, believed by the researchers to be a major contributing factor to the condition.
Study co-author Professor Shaowen Bao said, “Genetic knock out of TNF-A or pharmacologically blocking its expression prevented neuro-inflammation and ameliorated the behaviour associated with tinnitus in mice with noise induced hearing loss.”
As with any animal trial, far more rigorous study needs to be conducted before the treatment is applied to humans.
Even with the success of this study, scientists maintain that the underlying process of tinnitus remains a mystery. The most common cause of tinnitus is damage and loss of the tiny sensory hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear, called stereocilia. This tends to happen as people age, and it can also result from prolonged exposure to excessively loud noise. Hearing loss may coincide with tinnitus.
The team of scientists are hopeful their research will lead to a gene therapy to combat ringing in the ears and other hearing loss disorders, possibly even in a simple pill form.