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An interview with Grant Searchfield - New Zealand's tinnitus expert

August 6, 2020

Associate Professor Grant D Searchfield has been an audiologist since 1994 and obtained his Doctorate in Audiology in 2004. He is the clinical director of the University of Auckland’s Hearing and Tinnitus Clinic, and deputy director of the Eisdell Moore Centre for hearing and balance research in New Zealand.  Grant is a primary investigator in Auckland University’s Centre for Brain Research and Brain Research New Zealand, a national centre of research excellence.  He is a member of the American Tinnitus Associations Scientific Advisory Committee and is an associate editor for the International Journal of Audiology, Scientific Reports and Frontiers in Neuroscience and Psychology.  Grant is well known for his research investigating the use of sound and hearing aids for tinnitus management.  His current research is divided between projects exploring the benefit of hearing aids on cognition (memory and speed of thought) and on developing and translating behavioural intervention technologies for tinnitus.  He has a strong interest in how the tinnitus experience can be shaped by the environment and individual factors.

What interests you about your line of study and research? Was this something you have always been interested in?

I became aware of audiology at a young age as my mum wore hearing aids, I’d tag along to appointments, but audiology as a career only really entered my consideration in my first year at University when the audiology program began and a friend mentioned it.  Tinnitus was a topic that interested me during the audiology degree, but it was during my first job as an audiologist I realised how few tools I had to help tinnitus sufferers.  I began to read about the latest research and put some of this into practice and with the support and encouragement of many colleagues I began my PhD.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

Tinnitus is a challenging topic because it is so different from person to person, and is a bit of an enigma, but that’s also why I enjoy researching it.  The biggest challenge, and most academics will agree, is the continual process of applying for grants so as to keep researchers employed.  That being said I’ve been fairly lucky in getting funding, with groups such as the Auckland Medical Research Foundation supporting my team over many years.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the hearing loss and tinnitus space?

I enjoy the interaction with our participants, and when something works really well (being research that is not always the case) the smiles that you receive.  I want to see my research make a difference, so when I see or hear about someone using something we developed that is a real buzz.

How do you feel hearing loss and tinnitus research has been progressing over the last few years?

Hearing aids have become smarter and large consumer electronics companies such as Bose, Samsung and Apple have begun to show interest in the field.  The search continues for a tinnitus cure in the form of a drug, but evidence suggests we may need to personalise treatment – so different therapies for different people based on cause, genetics and lifestyle.  We’ve been working on a Personalised Sound TherapyTM that we hope will be available to trial soon.

What’s one fact/research finding related to hearing loss or tinnitus that you think people would be surprised to know?

Medieval Welsh physicians recommended a cure for tinnitus that consisted of taking a freshly baked loaf of bread out of the oven, cut it in two, “and apply to both ears as hot as can be borne, bind and thus produce perspiration, and by the help of god you will be cured.”  Please do not try this at home!

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