In Search of Clues: Circulating Inflammatory Proteins and Unchanging Tinnitus

3rd January 2024 – by Kings College London

Professor Frances Williams’ Chronic Pain and Hearing Loss Research Group, part of our team at TwinsUK, has recently published another piece of the puzzle in the quest to understand and treat tinnitus. 

The large project – funded by Tinnitus UK as part of their Large Research Grants Programme – spanned Sweden and the UK, recruiting participants with tinnitus and matched controls firstly in over 1,000 participants in Sweden and then ran a replication of the study in over 1,000 twins from Twins UK. The primary objective of the research was to identify biomarkers for tinnitus.  

Co-author Max Freiden said:  

“It is difficult to establish biomarkers to detect or treat the disorder, because tinnitus is heterogeneous, indicating that various factors determine whether a person develops tinnitus.” 

Surprisingly, tinnitus shares several signs and symptoms with chronic pain. Neuroimaging suggests similar disturbances in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, leading to distorted interpretation of sensory inputs, such as sound.  A localised brain inflammatory response, detectable in the bloodstream, has been reported to occur with chronic pain. The team investigated whether inflammatory biomarkers could be found in people with tinnitus, hypothesising that chronic pain and constant tinnitus may be associated with neuroinflammation. 

Importantly, factors unrelated to hearing difficulties that affect inflammatory marker levels, such as age, sex, and body mass index, were accounted for. Tinnitus tends to be accompanied by stress, anxiety, depression, hypersensitivity to sound, face pain, and headache; however, none of these conditions were related to inflammatory marker levels. While a weak association of five inflammatory proteins was seen in the Swedish cohort, the finding was not replicated in the UK cohort, leading researchers to conclude there is a lack of association between plasma biomarkers and constant tinnitus. Other research has shown that biomarkers can be derived from electrophysiological measures, but this does not appear to be the case for blood biomarkers. 

Although the team didn’t find a tinnitus biomarker, negative results are considered progress and constitute an important aspect of directing future research and treatment. Such advancements are only possible with the generous research investments from charities like Tinnitus UK, and the important contribution of participants from TwinsUK and others who consent to research.  

Link to the article is HERE

Professor Frances Williams to start new project to predict who will develop tinnitus

4th December 2020

The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) have announced today the first recipient of £125,000 through their 2020/21 large research grant funding programme – and it’s none other than our very own Professor Frances Williams.

The study aims to identify tinnitus biomarkers, using the health and genetics data of TwinsUK members.

The two-year research project will be led by Prof Frances Williams, Professor of Genomic Epidemiology at King’s College London, and Dr Christopher Cedderoth, Associate Professor in Hearing Sciences at the University of Nottingham.

Using data from TwinsUK and the Karolinska Institutet’s Swedish Tinnitus Outreach Project, they will be looking for biomarkers – or special molecules – in the blood that can help to objectively diagnose and/or predict who will develop tinnitus.

Professor Willams said:

“We’re really pleased to have been awarded a grant from the BTA, to allow us to take this significant project forward. We hope that using the large sample from TwinsUK will help us identify a blood molecule which will provide an objective, reliable indicator of tinnitus. This would allow the development of a blood test for tinnitus, leading to it being defined as a “disorder” rather than symptom, and providing an objective measure of a subjective condition.” 

This project is an important study and could provide essential information that will propel new research towards a cure for tinnitus.

The British Tinnitus Association are committed to funding, supporting and lobbying for what’s needed to silence tinnitus once and for all.

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