University start-up spearheads tinnitus breakthrough

University start-up spearheads tinnitus breakthrough

March 2013

A company set up by physics students at the University of Edinburgh and University College Dublin has come up with a solution to the problem of temporary tinnitus – or ‘ringing in the ears’, so often a result of exposure to loud music or working in a noisy environment.
The students have formed Restored Hearing, a company based in Sligo, north-west Ireland and claims its ‘sound therapy’ is so effective, that it can cure cases of temporary tinnitus in 99% of cases. It is now preparing to launch a series of clinical trials at the University of Edinburgh to see if its cure for the temporary condition can be used in treating a more serious permanent ringing in the ears.

Temporary tinnitus has a prevalence rate of 92%, and is a condition almost everyone has experienced when decibel levels are excessive. Ringing in the ears can last for several days and cause the sufferer severe irritation and discomfort. The high-pitched sound is caused when loud noises flatten the tiny hairs inside the ear. The hairs then cause interference with one another, which the brain interprets as a ‘phantom’ noise. The Restored Hearing therapy plays low-frequency sounds into the ear, which makes the tiny hairs stand up again.

Restored Hearing began life as a secondary school project in 2007 at the Ursuline College in Sligo. Pupils Rhona Togher and Eimear O’Carroll, together with Physics teacher, Anthony Carolan, set about finding a solution to the problem of temporary tinnitus. As a result of this research, the pupils’ project duly won a prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

Eimear is currently a fourth year physics student in the University of Edinburgh while Rhona is on a sabbatical from her physics degree and is working as the CEO. Together with Anthony, they are co-owners and directors of Restored Hearing and as Eimear explains, it’s all down to a ‘hair-raising’ experience.

“Using sound, our therapy stimulates the inner ear to promote the re-straightening of the cochlear hairs that get bent or even broken when they are subjected to high intensity sound. When the cochlear hairs are bent over they interfere with each other and this interference is interpreted by the brain as sound, often in the complete absence of any sound. In 99% of cases the tinnitus of the sufferer was gone after one minute of our sound therapy.”

When Restored Hearing started to think about continuing its work to help people with permanent tinnitus, it secured the assistance of LAUNCH.ed, the University of Edinburgh’s student entrepreneurs business start-up programme, who, together with Enterprise Ireland have embarked on a fund raising programme which aims to raise £500,000 to develop the long term strategy for Restored Hearing’s research and development aspirations into the cure for permanent tinnitus and hearing protection products.

Eimear O’Carroll added: “While investigating funding options for further research, it was suggested that we commercialise our therapy and set up a business. Being three scientists with no prior experience in business, setting up a company was a completely foreign experience. In the course of establishing Restored Hearing we have faced, but overcome, challenges in securing funding, getting insurance and making the public aware of our product and its benefits.”

Grant Wheeler, ERI’s Head of Company Formation & Incubation, said: “Eimear is the latest in a long line of students who have successfully taken advantage of the award-winning support offered to the University’s students by LAUNCH.ed. It is testament to Eimear’s determination that Restored Hearing is now fundraising. It is a hugely important technology which promises benefits to so many people who suffer from this debilitating condition. LAUNCH.ed and the University will continue to provide Eimear with whatever support it can.”

Source: University of Edinburgh