Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery
Lauer Tinnitus Research Center
In partnership with the Lauer family, Mass. Eye and Ear launched the Lauer Tinnitus Research Center in 2015 with the goal of advancing research to better understand and treat the debilitating condition of tinnitus. The center brings together years of experience and state-of-the-art research techniques to bear on this problem that affects more than 50 million Americans.
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, refers to the perception of sound when no external sound is present. It may be a temporary or chronic condition. The sudden and persistent onset of tinnitus in one ear may be a sign of sudden hearing loss and should be assessed with a hearing test within 48 hours.
The following strategies are underway to study tinnitus in the ear and the brain:
In 2009, Dr. Charlie Liberman, along with his colleague Dr. Sharon Kujawa, discovered that even brief exposure to loud noise can result in permanent loss of auditory nerve fibers. They named this condition “hidden hearing loss” because it does not affect an audiogram or appear in routine histological preparations of the cochlea. However, the loss of communication between the inner ear and cochlear nerve may be a root cause for difficulties understanding speech in noisy environments and may be a key link in the chain of events that causes tinnitus.
Dr. Liberman and his colleagues are working on therapeutic approaches to regrow these sensory neurons in mouse models in hopes of restoring hearing function and alleviating tinnitus.
Dr. Daniel Polley, a leading expert in the physiology and plasticity of auditory processing areas of the brain, is using cutting edge technologies for chronic imaging at a cellular scale to assess changes in the patterns of neural activity that represent the underlying signature of tinnitus in mouse models. His work is also investigating new strategies for direct brain stimulation that might reverse pathological patterns of activity and restore more normal sound perception.
Dr. Anne Takesian has recently joined this interdisciplinary tour de force to understand the neural basis of tinnitus. Her laboratory uses advanced techniques in neuroscience to map the genetic, cellular, and synaptic changes within the central auditory system that may underlie tinnitus. She is also working to identify therapies for tinnitus that leverage the brain’s inherent ability to restructure by tapping into precise cellular mechanisms that promote plasticity.
Dr. Daniel Polley is investigating new approaches to turn down the subjective intensity of tinnitus and auditory hypersensitivity. Dr. Polley and his team have identified new objective biomarkers that are closely linked to the severity of self-reported tinnitus and hyperacusis symptoms. With objective markers in hand, Dr. Polley and his team will perform clinical trials to identify therapeutic strategies to reduce the individual and societal burden of tinnitus and loudness hypersensitivity.
Dr. Stéphane Maison is developing innovative non-invasive electrophysiological tests to assess the integrity of the human auditory nerve. Dr. Maison is investigating alterations in sound-evoked responses from the auditory nerve and brainstem that are linked to tinnitus. This research could identify biological targets for future therapies.
The Lauer Tinnitus Research Center brings together years of experience and state-of-the-art research techniques to bear on the problem of tinnitus.