CHICAGO -- Ernest Moore, an audiologist and cell biologist at Northwestern University, developed tinnitus -- a chronic ringing and whooshing sound in his ears -- twenty years ago after serving in the U.S. Army reserves medical corps. His hearing was damaged by the crack of too many M16 rifles and artillery explosions. He suspects his hearing also suffered from hunting opossum with rifles as a kid on his grandmother's farm in Tennessee.
Ever since his ears began ringing, Moore has been researching a cure. He's at the forefront of just a small band of such scientists in the country. There's a lot riding on his work.
Half of the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan exposed to explosive devices suffer from tinnitus. The major cause is exposure to loud noises, which can damage and destroy hair cells of the inner ear. It's the number one war-related disability.
Nearly 400,000 troops collected disability for service-related tinnitus in 2006, which cost $539 million in 2006. The number climbs nearly 20 percent each year. It could hit $1 billion by 2011, according to the American Tinnitus Association.
An additional 12 million Americans have tinnitus severe enough to seek medical attention. In about two million of those cases, patients are so debilitated they can't function normally.
Despite the widespread suffering, there has only been a paltry $3 million allotted for public and private research. As a tinnitus researcher, Moore feels like a cross between Rodney Dangerfield and Sisyphus.
It's been tough to snare research money from the small purse and hard to garner respect for tinnitus. "Ears don't bleed from tinnitus," Moore explained. "It's a hidden problem. It's not obvious and dramatic like a heart attack or cancer -- although it torments its sufferers." Only one out of ten grant proposals he submits each year have been funded.
The research itself is challenging because Moore can't ask m
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