In Europe, around 42 million people suffer from chronic tinnitus. The annoying ringing of the ears leads to a lasting reduction in the quality of life of many people affected. It affects more than 10% of the general population based on large independent epidemiological studies, while 1% of the population considers tinnitus to be their main problem affecting their health. The scale of impairments ranges from ‘not at all affected to slightly affected’ to ‘very severely affected’ and sometimes even to the suicidal tendencies of individual sufferers. A generally effective treatment method for the very heterogeneous clinical picture does not yet exist. It is therefore necessary to identify the best treatment strategy for each individual patient group.
Most therapies often only target certain aspects of a disease without taking into account the complete clinical picture. They are therefore only partially effective and neglect important factors that play a role in the pathophysiology of the disease. However, tinnitus is a heterogeneous phenomenon and complex in many ways. This complexity is the real challenge to identify the most effective therapeutic measures. For these reasons, the EU is funding a new collaborative project to research new treatments for chronic tinnitus. ‘UNITI’, the name of the project standing for ‘Unification of Treatments and Interventions for Tinnitus Patients’ (GA No. 848261), will carry out the largest European clinical study on tinnitus to date. The aim is to find out which patient groups benefit most from which treatment methods.
This will be done by analyzing clinical, epidemiological, medical, genetic and audiological data, including signals reflecting ear-brain communication, from existing databases. Predictive factors for different patient groups will be extracted and their prognostic relevance will be validated in a large multi-center, randomized clinical trial with 500 patients in Europe. Different patient groups receive a combination of therapies that target both auditory and central nervous aspects. In the course of UNITI, combinations of several treatment methods will be systematically tested for the first time. The data from the clinical study will be combined with the existing databases to develop a computer model that predicts the best possible treatment option for the individual patient.
An interdisciplinary network of basic researchers and clinicians will work together towards this goal. The UNITI research network brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians from Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Hungary and Cyprus. Specialists from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, audiology, epidemiology, genetics, software development, data mining, medical engineering and neuroscience work together.
The kick-off meeting of the project was held in Athens on 15th to 17th of January 2020 on the premises of the National Technical University of Athens hosted by the Biomedical Engineering Laboratory of ECE-NTUA and the Institute of Communications and Computer Systems (ICCS-NTUA).
Further information about UNITI can be found accessing the project website: UNITI