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New Research Aims To Simplify Diagnosis Of Tinnitus Through Brain Imaging

PORTLAND, Ore. June 16, 2005 New research funded by the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) may simplify diagnosis of tinnitus and improve understanding of the underlying mechanisms that cause persistent ringing in the ears.

The ATAs Board of Directors has awarded nearly $70,000 to Anthony T. Cacace, Ph.D., of the Neurosciences Institute of Albany (New York) Medical Center, and Steven Silver, M.D., chief of otolaryngology, Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Albany, New York), for a one-year study to develop a database of images that show brain activity in people who have normal hearing.

Cacace and Silver will use a brain imaging methodology known as magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), to create the library of images and associated MR spectra. These data will become the baseline for research that may show how the brains of people with noise-induced tinnitus differ from others.

Analysis of the images will focus on a potent brain chemical called gamma aminobutric acid (GABA). Researchers already know that brain images from people who have noise-induced tinnitus show lower-than-normal levels of GABA. Cacace and Silver hope a second year of research will confirm a direct correlation between reduced GABA levels and the presence of noise-induced tinnitus.

Richard J. Salvi, Ph.D., chairman of the ATAs Scientific Advisory Committee and a tinnitus researcher at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, noted that Cacace and Silvers study may lead to new protocols for diagnosing tinnitus based on a simple non-invasive brain image.

Documenting a reliable pattern of brain chemical levels and areas of brain activity could simplify diagnosis and increase accuracy when defining the underlying cause, said Salvi. It may also allow us to eventually correlate which treatments work best, depending upon the cause of the tinnitus.

Salvi explained that people with tinnitus still frequently encounter healthcare providers who do not understand the condition and dont know that viable methods for dealing with tinnitus exist. This lack of awareness means that many people are told to just live with the noise and learn to ignore it.

If the noise sounds like a jet engine in your ear 24 hours a day, thats a pretty useless piece of advice, noted Salvi.

We hope that the Cacace and Silver research will give the worldwide tinnitus research community valuable data that may help advance a cure for ringing in the ears, he said.

Armed with the baseline images in the second year of the proposed research, Cacace and Silver will compare them to images from two groups: first, brain images from people who have noise-induced hearing loss but no tinnitus; and second, to brain images from people with both noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.

Cacace and Silver will publish their findings following completion of the research project in 2006, under terms of the grant.

Background on Tinnitus

People with tinnitus hear noise when no external sound source is present. In cases of noise-induced tinnitus, the condition results when delicate hair cells in the inner ear are damaged. Some loss of hearing may or may not accompany tinnitus. Exposure to loud noise is the most common cause of such damage; however, tinnitus can also result from the use of certain drugs, growths on the auditory nerve or even from an unusual circulatory condition.

Approximately one of every six Americans, or 50 million people, experience tinnitus. Roughly 12 million of those seek medical help to manage extreme problems, such as depression, loss of sleep and difficulty concentrating. For many, the condition can be relieved by a variety of approaches. However, tinnitus currently has no medical cure.

About the American Tinnitus Association

The American Tinnitus Association is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing tinnitus research, and to helping tinnitus patients and the professionals who treat them. The ATA is headquartered in Portland, Ore. Its web site is located at www.ata.org

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