Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Tinnitus

  • Dr. Michael Kilgard
  • University researchers are working with neuroscience-based medical device company MicroTransponder on a potential treatment for tinnitus
  • Dr. Robert Rennaker

Project Overview

Researchers are gearing up for a clinical trial designed to evaluate the effectiveness of a novel tinnitus therapy developed at UT Dallas. The trial, expected to begin this year, would involve UT Dallas and other facilities throughout the country.

Tinnitus is usually described as a persistent, annoying and painful ringing in the ears. It causes mild irritation for some people, but is severely disabling for many others. Nerve damage or trauma to the cochlea – the portion of the inner ear that converts sound waves into electrical signals in the brain – can result in a loss of input to the brain. This lack of input can result in changes to the auditory system, which is believed to be responsible for some forms of tinnitus.

The therapeutic approach developed at UT Dallas combines audible tones with brief pulses of electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve in the neck. Preclinical tests demonstrated that this approach “rewires” damaged brain circuitry associated with tinnitus, potentially yielding long-term reversal of symptoms. The initial human trial in Belgium provided encouraging results.

Stage of Development

The tinnitus therapy project is in the translational stage of development.

This project is being funded by the National Institutes of Health, MicroTransponder, UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Texas Biomedical Device Center at UT Dallas.

Development Team

The tinnitus research is a collaboration among the Texas Biomedical Device Center, Communication Technology Center, Callier Center for Communication Disorders, UT Southwestern Medical Center and MicroTransponder, a bioengineering firm. The team of researchers includes:

Michael Kilgard, PhD
The University of Texas at Dallas, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Robert Rennaker, PhD
The University of Texas at Dallas, Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science

Jeffrey Martin, PhD
The University of Texas at Dallas, Communication Sciences and Disorders