The UMCG and seven other European institutions are to launch a major research project (TIN-ACT) to study tinnitus. The researchers hope to unravel the biological mechanisms responsible for causing tinnitus. A total of fifteen PhD students will conduct the research, which will try to find the cause of tinnitus, and methods of diagnosing and treating the condition. The European Commission has pledged funding of almost €4 million from the Horizon 2020 programme.
People with tinnitus hear sounds (whining, zooming, ticking, hissing or whistling) that do not originate from outside their head. Although the cause is as yet unknown, tinnitus is known to develop in thirty percent of people with impaired hearing. An estimated ten to fifteen percent of the population suffers from tinnitus, one to four percent of whom experience severe problems. Cautious estimates put the number of tinnitus sufferers in Europe at around 50 million.
Based on the fact that hearing impairment is a risk factor for tinnitus, the researchers assume that it develops when disturbed auditory input causes changes in the brain. These changes in the brain then manifest as tinnitus. This would mean that rather than being an illness, tinnitus is a symptom of spontaneous activity in a specific area of the brain, which results in perceived sound.
The most unusual aspect of this project is that it will combine animal and human research. The three researchers being trained in Groningen will study deviations in brain activity in humans using MRI scans and animal models. The research project will last four years.
TIN-ACT stands for Tinnitus Assessment Causes and Treatments. The other institutions taking part in the research project are: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), University of Nottingham, Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, Charite Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Oticon, Widex, Cochlear Research and Development. Additional partner organizations are the European Federation of Hard of Hearing People, the European Association of Tinnitus Associations, Eurogrant, Hertz Training for Scientists, TinnitusHub, the Technical University of Denmark, and Siemens Healthineers.