Fan-Gang Zeng, PhD

Research scientist Fan-Gang Zeng, PhD, and his team of engineers, biologists, audiologists, and physicians at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), have been inspired by the discipline and accomplishments of Olympic athletes, and equate their research on tinnitus to the athletes’ struggles to overcome adversity—and hopefully, meet success.

The UCI team strives to treat tinnitus and clarify the mechanism that triggers it. They aim to discover if the mechanism is in the brain or the ear, how people with tinnitus hear differently from those who do not have it, and if the brain works differently in people with tinnitus.

"Based on preliminary data from a dozen tinnitus patients, they have witnessed promising results within the majority of the patient population," Zeng says. "Many have experienced a reduction in their tinnitus, or a temporary complete resolution of their tinnitus. They also describe a longer period of residual inhibition (silence) after stopping the external acoustic suppressor, than has been reported before."

The researchers are investigating the interactions between external sounds and tinnitus, hoping to find customized sounds that can suppress tinnitus but have more pleasant qualities, such as lower pitch and loudness than the patient’s perceived tinnitus. 

Early successes point to the positive outcomes of the team’s ongoing investigations, but as the research continues, many questions have emerged, such as: What makes one method successful in some individuals but not in others? How can we discover a cure for a condition that is so variable and personal? Why are we consistently treating a symptom as opposed to the source? How can we successfully treat a condition when we are ignorant of its cause?

Hamid Djalilian, MD, chief of Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery at UCI is one of the researchers.

The new study is being funded by the American Tinnitus Association, Portland, Ore. The team may be contacted via e-mail.

Zeng urges making donations to ATA to help fund the research.