UCSD Researchers Receive VA Grant to Study Genetic Architecture of Tinnitus

Findings will “direct future pharmaceutical research aiming at effective treatment […]”

A new research project, titled Genetic Architecture of Tinnitus and its Relationship to Hearing Loss has received funding and has been underway since July 1, 2022.

Veterans Affairs has awarded funds to Caroline Nievergelt, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego. The amount of money allocated to this project is not publicly available at this time.

The purpose of this newly funded study is:

Successful completion . . . will identify relevant variants, genes, and pathways, advance our knowledge of the genetic basis of tinnitus, dissect its relationship to hearing loss, and expand findings to diverse populations exposed to a range of environmental acoustic trauma. Our findings will provide a foundation for future neurobiological work and direct future pharmaceutical research aiming at effective treatment for this pervasive disorder.

More information about this research project and the researchers involved:

Our group published the first large genome-wide-association study (GWAS) for tinnitus), identifying genomic variants and establishing tinnitus as a heritable, polygenic disorder. We have curated the largest collection of data of tinnitus and hearing-related phenotypes, comprising diverse populations with a wide range of acoustic exposure, age, and ancestry. We now wish to continue this highly productive project to increase gene discovery and further dissect the genomic landscape of tinnitus and hearing loss. Specifically, the divergent anatomic and genomic pathways for tinnitus from hearing damage remains unidentified. 

This project was funded because:

Tinnitus and hearing loss have been the #1 and #2 disabilities at the VA for more than a decade. These auditory disorders are associated with depression, isolation, anxiety disorders, PTSD, sleep deprivation, cognition, loss of employability, and increased industrial and motor vehicle accidents. Yet there is no effective treatment for either disorder and genetic distinction between the two disorders is as yet uncharacterized. Our plan is to use the rich data in the Million Veteran Program to perform and analyze genome-wide association studies in order to identify relevant genes. In our current work, we have established a pipeline and for the first time, identified genetic variants associated with tinnitus. We will computationally separate and examine the genetic architecture of these two auditory disorders using military- and Veteran-relevant etiologies, i.e., age-related, chronic noise secondary to military exposures, blast, and traumatic brain injury. Identifying genes and their relevant pathways will direct pharmaceutical approaches towards treatment and ultimate cure.

Looking further ahead, the project end date is on June 30, 2026.

Some of the project’s aims and milestones currently include:

  • “expand and refine phenotyping for tinnitus”
  • “identify tinnitus subtypes”
  • “dissect the shared and distinct genetic underpinnings of tinnitus, hearing loss, and loss of speech intelligibility to improve risk prediction”

For updates concerning these milestones and publications related to this project, sign up for Tinnitus Treatment Report email newsletter.

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