Flinders University, Australia
Professor Raj Shekhawat works at the cutting edge of tinnitus research and is funded by RNID and the Rosetrees Trust.
Raj studied audiology at Mumbai University before doing his PhD at the University of Auckland. He moved from University College London to become inaugural Professor of Audiology at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and is now the university’s Dean of Research.
Raj’s approaches to hearing research
I first became interested in tinnitus research when working at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore and I started to see tinnitus patients. I didn’t know what to do to help. It was this that sparked my interest in the field of tinnitus, leading me to do a PhD around finding innovative ways to manage the condition. There are still many places around the globe where people are simply told to ‘learn to live with it, nothing can be done for your tinnitus’, which is very disheartening.
Awareness of the need for research into tinnitus and hearing loss is steadily growing. Organisations like RNID, BTA, TRI and Tinnitus Hub are doing a great job. Lobbying by people with tinnitus and researchers in the field will help bring it to the attention of research funders.
Tinnitus varies a lot in terms of how people experience it. It is very individualistic. I think this needs to be kept in mind when planning better ways to manage it and designing research studies. We need more global collaborations to gather data so we can start to identify different sub-types of tinnitus and understand how people will respond to different treatments.
My research is focused on using a type of non-invasive brain stimulation, (a technique that stimulates or alters brain activity from the surface of the head without breaking the skin or introducing anything inside the body). For some people, it can result in an immediate temporary reduction in the perception of tinnitus. The actual technique we use is called high definition transcranial direct current stimulation – HD-tDCS for short! It is completely safe and involves putting small electrodes on parts of the head to stimulate specific parts of the brain. It is painless and all people feel is a mild tingling, itching sensation underneath the electrodes which lasts for a few minutes.
The research that RNID and the Rosetrees Trust are funding in my lab is focussed on getting the most benefit possible for tinnitus patients using this approach. We want to identify the associated changes in brain activity so that we get a better understanding of how the approach works. I will be collaborating on this with SAHMRI (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute). We also want to explore ways of prolonging the time that tinnitus is suppressed by the treatment.
What drives me is wanting to make a positive difference. It is this value that has motivated me to continue to do my best every single day. It would be good, eventually, to live in a world where no one has to suffer from their tinnitus. We would have well-established, personalised management for one and all, irrespective of their tinnitus type and severity of it.
Academia can be challenging, especially in terms of job certainty and securing grant funding, but for anyone considering a career in tinnitus research I’d say ‘follow your passion’; that’s the key and doors will open.