by Anna Ferraro
An internationally recognized tinnitus researcher, and the co-founder and CEO of OtoScience Labs, Dr. Jeremy Turner is also a native of Jacksonville and a professor at Illinois College. His lab, located on 1225 Tendick Street, is now the producer of a patented test that holds revolutionary amounts of potential for the future of researching and treating tinnitus and hearing loss.
Turner defined tinnitus as, “A ringing in the ears, when there’s no external sound…” He continued, “Any area of health, if you don’t have a measurement for it, you can’t really study or treat it. That’s the problem with tinnitus, it’s going on in people’s heads, and they feel alone.” He reported that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs is writing out over $2 billion in checks each year to assist veteran’s struggling with tinnitus, leading Turner to state, “that’s an enormous price tag for something that can’t be measured.”
And while VA hospitals and bases are scratching their heads over the symptoms and complaints of patients with tinnitus, Turner added, “it’s not just a problem for the military,” referring to the millions of civilians across the nation that are plagued with ringing in their ears. Turner commented with feeling, “It’s remarkable how effective people’s lives can be when this issue is resolved. [But] when you can’t measure it, you can’t treat it.”
Holding a PhD in auditory neuroscience, Turner shares that since his days as a student at Illinois College, he has been fascinated with learning about “how the brain responds to hearing loss.”
About 12 years ago, while working in a lab, he shares that he accidentally “found it.” After working through a series of experiments, he and his colleagues developed a hypothesis that explained a heretofore-unrecognized cause of tinnitus. They presented the idea that when animals or individuals cannot “hear silence,” they will “hear ringing” instead.
Turner explained, “Scientists used to think that [tinnitus] was generated by the ear, but it’s actually generated by the brain. The brain is trying to hear sounds that it used to hear, and doesn’t hear them any more…. In the case of hearing loss, the brain is trying to fix it, and the by-product of that is the ringing.” Turner further explained, “The same kind of thing happens in peripheral neuropathy, in diabetic cases, for example. The brain is essentially saying, ‘I am not getting something,’ and so it creates pain in that area or system.” Together, he and his colleagues set out to develop a test that could more accurately diagnose tinnitus, likening it to the “MRI for the brain, or the ECG for the heart.” Every aspect of their work was motivated by the opinion that if the issue can be measured, than ultimately, it can be treated.
Currently, two patents have been issued for their diagnostic test, and Turner owns the intellectual property on the test. After receiving a $1.4 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Program, Turner and his team are now using their tinnitus measurement device with active-duty military members and veterans. He shares, “Local testing of the device is being conducted at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield. Testing will also be conducted at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., and at the Veterans Administration Portland Health Care System.” He added, “Getting our name out there and what we’re doing is critical.”
After the next several months of running their diagnostic tests, Turner hopes to begin the process of getting FDA approval on their test. However, he shared, “The FDA doesn’t make it very simple…. [It will be] very extensive and time-consuming.” Before they get to that point, he surmises that there is “2-3 more years of research and development that we have to do.”
Recently, though, OtoScience Labs made a big break with publicity by being featured as a cutting-edge American science firm on Ed Begley, Jr’s show, “Innovations.” The program was broadcast on the Fox Business Channel on Saturday, January 28, 2017. It will also air at a later date on the Discovery Channel. In the show, the Innovations team went into the Jacksonville lab to understand the problem of tinnitus so that they could show “how OtoScience Labs’ innovative research is helping to lead the way” in developing “the world’s first objective tinnitus measurement system.”
The core of the team that makes up this Jacksonville-based hearing research company is a scientist in San Diego, several individuals in Portland, Tacoma, and SIU, and of course, Dr. Jeremy Turner.
Turner and his wife Annette, who works alongside him, both grew up in Jacksonville. He shares that in looking back on his career, “Any inspirational moment would have been as a student here [at Illinois College], learning that my passion was understating how the brain worked. He reflected, “that all happened here in Jacksonville.”
Today, as he continues to research and develop in the area of tinnitus and hearing loss, he says, “I can’t get enough of it – I spend all my time thinking about how hearing works and how we can fix the hearing problems in the world. I’m always working on trying to find solutions.”
And solutions are promising for the work of OtoScience Labs as they continue on their journey. To learn more about OtoScience Labs, visit their website at www.otosciencelabs.com. If you are interested in helping by participating in the firm’s hearing loss and tinnitus research, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 217-243- 8088.