CBCS News

Dr. Joe Walton Recognized for U.S. Patents

Dr. Joe Walton Recognized for U.S. Patents

Joe Walton, PhD, Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, was recognized at the Innovation Awards Annual Luncheon held on January 27th for new patents in 2018-2019. This first patent is shared with Parveen Bazard, Robert Frisina and Venat Bhethanabotla called Plasmonic Stimulation of Electrically Excitable Biological Cells. The second patent is shared with Luisa Scott called BK Channel-Modulating Peptides and Their Use.

Tinnitus or "ringing in the ears" is an audiological condition that disproportionately impacts the elderly or those who are or have served in the military. Tinnitus sufferers perceive a sound when no actual sound is present. Acute or cumulative noise exposure and aging are the most common factors underlying tinnitus. In fact, persistent tinnitus effects over 10-15% of individuals over 65 years of age, and reaches over 60% among Military Service members, who are exposed to damaging noise from gun fire, IEDs, and heavy machinery. In addition to the impact on hearing, moderate to severe tinnitus is associated with poor sleep, poor cognitive focus and poor mental health. Despite the significant need, there is currently no FDA approved medications with a primary indication for reducing tinnitus.

Patients with tinnitus exhibit changes in brain activity that produce the phantom sound and this brain activity is regulated by ion channels that are present in all neurons, the cells responsible for brain communication. Tinnitus may be relieved by modulating the function of specific ion channels in the brain. One ion channel, the large conductance calcium-activated potassium (BK) channel is implicated in other brain excitability disorders, and studies suggest that it may be useful for treating tinnitus. This work led to a successful patent application awarded to Drs. Luisa Scott, CEO of Cognosetta, Inc. and Dr. Joseph Walton. In partnership with Cognosetta, Inc., the Walton lab is working to develop a treatment for tinnitus based on a patent that uses neuropeptides to silence overactive neurons. The current studies, funded by the National Institute of Health, will support the preclinical efficacy and safety for this innovative pharmaceutical strategy for treating tinnitus. The goal of this drug development partnership is to provide a pharmaceutical treatment for patients with persistent, subjective tinnitus. This medication is expected to improve quality of life for active duty Service members, Veterans and many civilians beyond current treatment strategies. With current state-of-the art treatment for tinnitus, clinicians cite between 20-50% success in providing any sort of life-improvement, and the degree of improvement is generally not sufficient for people with moderate to severe tinnitus.