The neuroaudiology research program is focused on delineating the underlying neural substrates that drive specific types of auditory dysfunctions, such as tinnitus. Tinnitus is the abnormal perception of a sound that has no external source. The sounds heard by tinnitus suffers can be a ringing, buzzing, chirping, roaring and/or a large variety of other types of sounds. The sound may be intermittent or constant and may localize to the right ear, left ear, either ears or neither ears but instead perceived in the head. The intensity of the tinnitus sound can be so loud that patients report interference with everyday listening. The effect of tinnitus can be so great that patients often contemplate suicide. Fifty million Americans suffer with tinnitus and it is the most prevalent service-connected disability among veterans (exceeding PTSD and TBI). The Veterans Administration (VA) spent over $1.1 billion in 2010 to compensate veterans for tinnitus and is projected to exceed $2.26 billion (ATA). Interestingly, public and private funding for research focused on tinnitus treatment is only $10 million (ATA).
Our research is focused on an unorthodox line of thinking regarding the auditory system and tinnitus. For instance, we are pursuing the notion that some forms of neuronal dysfunctions that drive tinnitus may also lower the threshold of susceptibility and/or increase severity of other neuropathologic conditions. Supporting evidence for this notion comes from observations that 1) specific lesions to primary auditory neurons alter excitatory and inhibitory neural circuits in the brainstem and cortex. 2) Alterations to excitatory and inhibitory neural circuits in the brainstem and cortex are common to tinnitus and other neuropathologic conditions.