Balance and Dizziness Treatments: What’s On the Horizon?
This information is intended as a general introduction to this topic. As each person is affected differently by balance and dizziness problems, speak with your health care professional for individual advice.
A growing understanding of how our complex balance system works is leading to potential new treatment approaches. These include:
Research is being done to develop new balance and treatment devices These include:
- Vestibular implants
Much like cochlear implants restore hearing, vestibular implants are a promising technical solution to restore balance for those with bilateral vestibulopathy. Researchers have shown the possibility of restoring the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR). This will allow people with severe loss of vestibular (inner ear balance system) sensation to regain a sense of equilibrium and keep vision steady during head movement.
Two different vestibular implant devices are currently under clinical development. Both are limited to restoring semicircular canal function:
- The Geneva-Maastricht group’s initial prototype, based on a modified cochlear implant, was implanted in 2007. As of 2019, this research group has equipped 13 patients with prototype cochleo-vestibular implants.
- Since 2002, a group at the Vestibular NeuroEngineering Laboratory at Johns Hopkins has followed a different path, developing a standalone MVI multichannel vestibular prosthesis that is not combined with a cochlear implant. It functions 24/7, is waterproof and is designed so that battery can be changed without disrupting balance. Clinical trials of the MVImultichannel vestibular implant are continuing.
- Michigan Tinnitus Device
A research team at the University of Michigan has developed the Michigan Tinnitus Device, a novel technology that could quiet tinnitus (ringing in the ears) by targeting unruly nerve activity in the brain. The device uses precisely timed sounds and weak electrical pulses that activate touch-sensitive nerves, both aimed at steering damaged nerve cells back to normal activity. Results of the first animal tests and clinical trial resulted in a decrease in tinnitus loudness and improvement in tinnitus-related quality of life.
- Biofeedback systems with wearable sensors
Research suggests these devices have good potential for use in laboratory- and home-based rehabilitation training settings as well as balance aids during activities of daily living. The devices give visual, auditory, vibrotactile and electrotactile feedback. In the future, it is likely these devices will be enhanced with state-of-the art technologies, such as Bluetooth® This will give them more powerful processing capacities to assess body balance. As a result, they will be lighter, smaller and more user-friendly.
- Technology for Injury Prevention in Seniors (TIPS)
A research group at Simon Fraser University in BC is developing technology related to the prevention of falls and fall-related injuries in older adults including a wearable sensor system that automatically detects falls, and solutions to prevent injuries in the event of a fall, including wearable hip protectors and compliant flooring.
Gene-related therapy advances
Growing evidence suggests a genetic component to some inner-ear (vestibular) disorders. Although little is known about the genetic contribution to most disorders, ongoing research suggests that treatment, in some cases personalized, for some conditions may be possible.
Researchers are discovering genetic variants associated with a number of disorders including motion sickness, familial Ménière’s disease, semicircular canal dehiscence (SCD), acoustic neuroma, otosclerosis and enlarged vestibular aqueduct (EVA).
Researchers have found a way to regrow hair cells in the inner ears of mice. About 70% of the mice recovered vestibular function. The finding is a proof of concept and has opened the door for many more possible treatments of vestibular disorders. Read more about this research.
Medical treatment advances
Research is ongoing that hopefully will lead to the development of new drugs to treat - or prevent - some vestibular disorders and symptoms.
Researchers are looking at how medications used for other conditions might be used to treat some vestibular disorders. These are example of what is being investigated:
- bisphosphonates (a class of drugs that stops the loss of bone density) and vitamin D as a possible treatment for otosclerosis
- oral supplementation with mitochondrial antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10 to reduce hair cell loss in the inner ear
Vestibular rehabilitation advances
Vestibular rehabilitation programs are likely to become more individualized and take advantage of emerging technologies including:
- mobile sensors
- on-demand training using mobile apps
- training in virtual environments,
- increased use of neuromodulation (direct stimulation of the nervous system with electrical signals)
The most comprehensive source for information about current clinical trials is ClinicalTrials.gov. It is a database maintained by the US government of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world.
- Are you looking for vestibular patients for clinical trials? If so, contact us so we can post your link. However, your trial must be authorized by Health Canada, registered, board-certified and have passed an ethics committee review. No drug trials, please!
Action on Hearing Loss. Investigating the genetics of otosclerosis. Available from: https://bit.ly/32YLgqz. Accessed October 28, 2019.
JM, Raz Y, Whitney SL. Geriatric vestibulopathy assessment and management. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010 Oct 18(5): 386-391. Available from: https://bit.ly/2Yv425G
Gaggego-Martinez A, Espinosa-Sanchez JM, Lopez-Escamez JA. Genetic contribution to vestibular diseases. J Neurol. 2018 Oct;265(Suppl 1):29-34. Available from: https://bit.ly/2G9DGPu
Ma CZH, Wong DWC, Lam WK, Wan AHP, Lee WCC. Balance improvement effects of biofeedback systems with state-of-the-art wearable sensors: A systematic review. Sensors. 2016. 16(4); 434. Available from: https://bit.ly/2NHqPJI
Mowat AJ, Crompton M, Ziff JL, Aldren CP, Lavy JA, Saeed SR, Dawson SJ. Evidence of distinct RELN and TGFB1 genetic association in familial and non-familial otosclerosis in a British population. Human Genetics. 2018. 137:357-363. Available from: https://bit.ly/2N0Ke7X
Tjernström F, Zur O, Jahn K. Current concepts and future approaches to vestibular rehabilitation. J Neurol. 2016. Apr;263 Suppl 1:S65-70. Available from: https://bit.ly/2Yocnbp
University of Michigan News. Specially timed signals ease tinnitus symptoms in test aimed at condition’s root cause. Available from: https://bit.ly/2YBAIPj
Page updated September, 2019.