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Thanos Tzounopoulos, PhDA drug to quieten your tinnitus. It’s what most people struggling with tinnitus desire. We had the pleasure of interviewing Thanos Tzounopoulos, PhD, director of the Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center, on his work to develop just such a drug.

His work builds on the previously somewhat successful off-label tinnitus drug Retigabine (Trobalt). That drug was taken off the market due to severe side effects. Thanos is now attempting to re-develop it, without the side effects, and better targeted at the source of the neural hyperactivity perceived as tinnitus.

In this episode, we speak extensively about Thanos’ theory of how tinnitus is generated in the brain and the role of (broken) potassium channels in this. He explains all the trial and error that went into re-developing the drug and speaks about the upcoming phases of research needed before the drug can come to market.

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Would you like to read a transcript of the interview?
We have prepared one for you. Click here for the transcript (PDF).

Skip to: 00:00 Background and initial interest in tinnitus.

Skip to: 11:57 Personal experience of tinnitus.

Oh, I have tinnitus. […] You know, I can concentrate, I can focus, I can keep going on with my daily activities, but there are times where it is almost louder than your voice.

Skip to: 13:56 Theory of how tinnitus is generated.

Skip to: 21:05 Potassium channels’ influence on nerve activity.

Somehow these channels are not operating optimally [..] and they do not allow the potassium to come out and that’s why […] cells fire which are not supposed to fire.

Skip to: 36:24 Re-development of existing drug Retigabine.

Skip to: 39:18 Sub-typing of tinnitus.

The bottom line is that tinnitus is a plasticity disorder in my mind. There is peripheral damage […] that leads to central reorganisation to compensate. […] If we tweak the system now by using a drug that would quieten these neurons, you’d give it a chance for the system to recalibrate.

Skip to: 42:37 Potential benefits for hyperacusis.

Skip to: 43:11 Animal testing and clinical trials.

Skip to: 50:09 Timeline for getting drug to market.

In the next year or two we should be able to ‘de-risk’ everything that we know and take the drug to clinical trials. […] After that, frankly, I do not know.

Skip to: 54:33 Partnerships and funding.

Skip to: 59:06 General impressions of tinnitus research.

Discuss this episode on the Tinnitus Talk Forum, or submit a reply below.

Comments (27)
  1. Podcast was very interesting. Sounds like we have hope for our tinnitus. Thank you Hazel and Thanos. I live in PA. I would be interested in your research.

  2. How can we get involved in the clinical trials of the new medication? I would assume that many of us with significant ringing in our ears would appreciate getting to quiet sooner than later.

    • Hi Edd, I believe Thanos said the clinical trials are still about two years away. It might be worth contacting him closer to that time and ask how you could be included in the trials. Best of luck!

    • Hi David, I’m afraid only Thanos can answer that question; but I would say this is closely related. It’s just a pity that so very few neurologists focus on tinnitus at all!

  3. Imagine going deaf and you no longer hear any outside sounds, not your own voice, no hearing aids works and there’s only tinnitus 24/7 and nothing you can do to alleviate it.
    That’s where I am.
    I would more than welcome a drug.

  4. Thank you so much. This is great information for me.

    I now understand my tinnitus more as I did a metal detox and had a bad reaction with potassium.

  5. Good Morning

    First I would like to thank Dr. Thanos Tzounopoulos for his work in this area… I’m excited to read and hear about more of the upcoming results. I would also like to be considered for the trials that are to be commencing in the next year or so.

    Robert Stevens M.Sc. Ed

    • Hi Robert, glad to hear you found our podcast interesting. I would suggest you reach out to Thanos directly (I won’t post his contact details here, but he has an online presence) and ask to be considered for the trials. But it might be too early days yet. Either way, good luck!

  6. Interesting work, thanks to Dr. Thanos & Tinnitus Talk for the podcast. I’m in Australia & I would put my hand up for trials with you. I’ve had my tinnitus for decades, along with hyperacusis & misophonia. I’ve noticed they’ll often go hand in hand.

    My tinnitus will often ‘harmonise’ with itself (2 frequencies in one ear 1 in other.). Sometimes, as well as the high pitches, I’ll also get (what I named) the lower frequency drop-in. It suddenly appears & often goes away within a minute or two. I could be wrong but I’m wondering if (that bit) may be related to atmospheric pressure drops, not sure. Then there’s the times when it clicks – urgh I hate that bit more than all the rest put together. Hope we all find some auditorical peace soon. (I think I just made up a word).

  7. There are a few initiatives on-going. Seems like the hope for a cure grows. I am fairly optimistic something drastically positive could occur within my lifetime. It really sucks to be cursed with the infernal howling inside my head because of the doing of other people, but I do not harbour any real resentments towards them anymore, because that is a one way ticket to the bottle for me.

  8. I have suffered with tinnitus for over 20 years. I have found that high protein diet, especially salmon, tuna, pork, & beef helps. Peanut Butter & Bananas also have helped. It may be the high amount of B12. Also have sound machines which also help, especially the sound of a brook. This may not help everyone, but even if it helps one person it’s worth it. I am now 73 years old. It started at age 52. I don’t know if this is any encouragement, but my tinnitus has improved as I aged. If the real problem lies in the brain, which I believe it does, it may be that brain cells are dying off as we know they do with age. Perhaps this is the reason for the improvement lately. I have suffered tremendously while trying to go on with life, not complain etc. I believe for me, not talking about it somehow helped me pretend it wasn’t there.

    My ♥️ Goes out to all of you dealing with this. Oh, and I also pray A LOT.

  9. I have had severe tinnitus for 2 1/2 years. With all my other health issues it would be an absolute miracle to have one less health issue going on! I’m only in my 50’s and I feel like I am falling apart! I truly hope your research is successful and we have some relief! Thank you!

  10. As with every tinnitus sufferer here, we would all happily travel around the world to get involved with the tinnitus trials and would accept any weird side effects just to feel any relief even if it did mean turning into a smurf 😂

  11. Hi Thanos – Thank you for your great work on tinnitus. I have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a fall, with a host of terrible side effects – stomach, dizziness and bad Tinnitus being one of them. My tinnitus is VERY bad, it will stay “hissing” for 1-3 days, it comes and goes weekly, especially in the middle of the night (turn on or turn-off). It’s so loud, it’s nearly intolerable for me. Please continue your work on the drug. I too will happily participate in a trial.

    To the other tinnitus sufferers – It’s encouraging to read your comments and feedback. I’m suffering very bad from my brain injury, I’ve had to quit my job – My tinnitus is so bad, it would be hard for me to work with that alone, yet alone the remaining stomach and dizziness issues I’m suffering from for 1 year now. I’d love to connect with a few of you for support, I think I need it.

    • I have severe tinnitus from a head injury too. It has ruined my life. It is constant and never changes, extremely high frequency. I’d like to connect with you too.

  12. Dr. Thanos sounds like the real deal. Love his attitude. We need the young scientists to crack this problem. Our silence is in your hands. Godspeed Thanos!

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