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Engineering a solution for the torment of tinnitus

Building medical device prototypes is a way of life for Senior Research Engineer, Owen Burns. Over the past 13 years, his expertise in bio-mechanical engineering has been integral to the design of electrodes to treat Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, blindness, and now tinnitus.

Owen and his team in the Bionics Institute Experimental Device Engineering Hub are working closely with lead researcher Dr Mehrnaz Shoushtarian to develop a new prototype to test tinnitus using a brain imaging technology that monitors oxygen levels in the brain called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

Tinnitus, hearing sounds not present externally like hissing or buzzing, affects 15% of the population and can severely impact quality of life. Currently there are no reliable treatments for tinnitus, and also no objective test to determine if potential treatments are working.

Dr Shoushtarian says: “We have developed an objective test of tinnitus using fNIRS and machine learning to detect tinnitus-related changes in the brain, which is an important step in developing reliable treatments”.

Using a general-purpose fNIRS system, Dr Shoushtarian and her research team have established a technique that detects tinnitus with 87% accuracy. However, to meet clinical usability requirements, a specialised prototype is under development.

Supported by a generous donation from Hearts and Minds Investments as nominated by Cooper Investors, the engineering team will produce five prototypes in 2024 for use in a multi-site clinical trial.

Hearts and Minds is an Australian listed investment company that has donated $48.9M to leading medical research organisations since its inception with support from its suite of fund managers, including Cooper Investors, who provide their highest conviction investment ideas pro bono.

Peter Cooper founded Cooper Investors in 2001 and combines his role of Chief Investment Officer with advocating for more and better philanthropy in Australia.

He says that tinnitus is a very challenging condition, and when he heard about the research being conducted at the Bionics Institute, he was keen to give his support.

“Medical research provides an excellent return on investment, and I look forward to seeing the progress of this research program towards new treatments for tinnitus” Peter Cooper

To find out more about this tinnitus research and how you can participate in the clinical trial here.

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