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Thinking Outside the ‘Box’

Scientists at Hough Ear Institute reimagined existing tools to facilitate the study of tinnitus in rats, which has significantly furthered the possible real-world solutions for the condition.

Dr. Jianzhong Lu, Hough Ear Institute research scientist, served as the senior researcher utilizing GPIAS – or the gap prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle response – box in testing for behavioral evidence of tinnitus and therapeutic response in rats.

After two years of research (thanks to a 2020 OCAST grant) and testing 286 rats, he helped confirm the hypothesis that damaged ear (cochlear) nerve endings can lead to tinnitus, which is now leading to real-world help for people with hearing issues.

Photo by Logan Walcher

“Two years of study supported the hypothesis that cochlear nerve ending loss was enough to cause tinnitus,” said Matt West, Hough Ear Institute Chief Operating Officer. “We also established that the drug that we’re testing can reinnervate the sensory cells that cannot regrow those nerve endings.”

Hough scientists modified the existing Kinder System box and innovated on how to incorporate the functionality of the box into the study. 

“For us to be able to draw the line between this hypothesis and actually being able to get objective evidence for that, we needed a system that’s custom designed for that purpose,” West said. “So we implemented this in this unique way in this kind of study.”

Because of confirmation of their hypothesis, it is helping further the advancement of a medicine Hough developed that can repair cochlear nerve endings. And, thanks to the FDA’s Expanded Access Program, one patient named Max who was completely homebound because of his tinnitus was treated with the investigational drug and is now able to resume his normal life.

“This helps the clinical pipeline because Jianzhong and Zach (Yokell, Hough research scientist) and others have shown that the drug can help to reinnervate,” West said. “And that may correlate with potential positive therapeutic outcomes in patients like Max.”

Photo by Logan Walcher

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