OHSU Researchers to Study Whether Alcoholism Drug is Effective Tinnitus Treatment

02/28/08  Portland, Ore.

Participants are coming from as far away as the East Coast

Oregon Health & Science University researchers have received more than $370,000 in grants to study whether a drug typically used to prevent alcoholism relapses can also be used to treat tinnitus.

Approximately 14 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers with the occasional, yet disturbing “ringing in the ears” associated with the condition. Four percent of the population seeks medical care because the symptoms are severe enough to disrupt their lives. Severe tinnitus sufferers often complain of trouble sleeping, loss of focus, anxiety and depression

“It is impossible for those without tinnitus to comprehend how devastating this condition can be,” said Billy Martin, Ph.D., professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, and director of the OHSU Tinnitus Clinic.

“Just imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a Boeing 747 at the side of your head getting ready for take-off, or waking to the sound of finger nails on a chalkboard. Now imagine not knowing where the sound is from, why it started and what it means.”

Scientists believe that an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, which occurs in those who suffer from alcoholism, may also play a role in tinnitus. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are involved in communications between the brain’s nerve cells.

Because the alcoholism drug Acamprosate can restore balance between two competing neurotransmitters in the brain, Martin and his colleagues believe the drug may also serve the same role in tinnitus suffers.

A preliminary study of Acamprosate for tinnitus conducted by researchers in Brazil showed encouraging but inconclusive results, explained Martin.

With funding from the Tinnitus Research Consortium and the Portland-based American Tinnitus Association, the researchers will use a new three-phase tinnitus research model, which includes more than 150 study participants, to seek a deeper understanding of the brain’s role in the condition.

Other study team members include; Yong-bing (Baker) Shi, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, and assistant director of the OHSU Tinnitus Clinic; and Anne Tucker, Au.D., audiologist for the OHSU Tinnitus Clinic.

At the end of the study, the researchers will identify what common characteristics are shown in the people who respond to the medication, for example tinnitus pitch, degree of sleep problems and level of hearing loss. 

To learn more about this study, contact project coordinator, Linda Howarth, at
503 494-0670


About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and its only academic health center. OHSU is Portland’s largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with more than 12,400 employees. As a leader in research, OHSU earned $307 million in research funding in fiscal year 2007. OHSU serves as a catalyst for the region’s bioscience industry and is an incubator of discovery, averaging one new breakthrough or innovation every 2.7 days, with more than 4,100 research projects currently under way. OHSU disclosed 132 inventions in 2007 alone, and OHSU research has resulted in 33 startup companies since 2000, most of which are based in Oregon.


About the Tinnitus Clinic

The Tinnitus Clinic at OHSU is housed within the Oregon Hearing Research Center at OHSU and is the first of its kind in the nation. It was established in 1976 and has seen patients from across the United States and many foreign countries. OHRC has been at the forefront of research into the problem of tinnitus and its relief.