BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo neuroscience PhD student
Sarah Hayes has won a $10,000 grant from the American Tinnitus
Association (ATA) to aid her in her search for the causes of
tinnitus. ATA is the largest nonprofit organization working to cure
While many people have never heard of tinnitus, about one in
five has experienced the condition, characterized as hearing a
phantom sound in the ears such as ringing or buzzing. The group of
people Hayes is focusing her research on is the one percent of the
population who hear the sound regularly at debilitating levels.
Hayes, now in her third year in the PhD program in neuroscience,
an interdisciplinary program of the UB School of Medicine and
Biomedical Sciences, was first introduced to tinnitus while working
in the lab of Richard Salvi, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor in
the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences in the
College of Arts and Sciences. She became so interested in the
subject that she took up researching causes of the condition for
"I wanted to do research that is clinically relevant -- research
with the goal of helping people suffering from a disorder, or
helping to find cures for different neurological disorders," said
Hayes, a native of Hamburg, New York, who received her BS in
biology from Canisius College. "But I'm also interested by the fact
that it is a phantom auditory perception. I think trying to
understand how we perceive the world is fascinating."
Currently there is no cure for tinnitus, and Hayes believes that
this is mainly due to the condition not being fully understood.
It was previously believed that tinnitus was a result of damage
to the inner ear, but studies conducted in the 1990s by Salvi, a
member of the Tinnitus Research Initiative, and his colleagues
produced findings that suggested the condition originated in the
Tinnitus has been linked to noise-induced hearing loss as well.
Aside from the elderly, military personnel make up a large
population of the people affected by the condition, as some
soldiers are constantly exposed to loud blasts and explosions.
The U.S. Department of Defense is so concerned with the issue
that they are backing Hayes' research. They have provided Hayes
with the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate
Fellowship, which provides her with full tuition remission and an
For Hayes' thesis, she will look into the relationship between
stress and tinnitus. One of the major potential factors associated
with tinnitus is chronic stress. Although tinnitus itself causes
stress, elevated stress can worsen the condition and even make the
perceived sound louder. At present, the mechanism through which
chronic stress may contribute to the generation of tinnitus is
Hayes will use her award from the ATA to purchase lab equipment
At the moment, Hayes conducts all of her tests using animal
models of tinnitus, but she is working on an AuD in clinical
audiology from the UB Department of Communicative Disorders and
Sciences, a degree that will give her the necessary credentials to
work with people.
"Having a clinical audiology degree will allow me to work with
human patients and adapt discoveries we find in the lab to work in
humans," she said.
Although she is not currently working with human patients in
her lab, Hayes can still hear firsthand how the condition affects
their lives through the Tinnitus Support Group run by the UB Center
for Hearing and Deafness.