As for whether that tool can be used to guide future efforts at drug development, “that’s a long way off,” Dr. Salvi stressed. But now that the investigators have identified a neural network as being involved in tinnitus, one future step could well be to figure how to deactivate certain segments of that network, perhaps with drugs that target the neurotransmitters that are involved in the network’s functions, he added.
Explore This IssueJune 2015
Tinnitus accounts for billions of dollars in Veterans Administration disability claims each year. In 2014, it was the No. 1 cause for such disability claims, according to the administration’s 2013 Annual Benefits Report. “But because nobody dies from tinnitus, very few research dollars are spent on it,” he said.
Part of that tight-fistedness is due to “a risk-averse drug industry” that is reluctant to fund research for conditions that lack a definitive mechanism of action, Dr. Salvi said. “We may never have that ‘smoking gun’ for tinnitus—it may be a far too heterogeneous condition,” he said. “But we still need to keep trying—especially given the fact that tinnitus continues to cause major disability, especially for combat military personnel and the elderly.”