Tinnitus therapy is music to the ears of student entrepreneurs
START-UP NATION: Restored Hearing:Coming second in the 2009 Young Scientist competition was a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the students who have launched their project as a business
WHEN LEAVING Certificate students Rhona Togher and Eimear O’Carroll lost out on winning the 2009 Young Scientist competition, they were devastated. But coming second was actually a godsend for the pair who developed a therapy to alleviate temporary tinnitus, as it gave them the opportunity to expand their project into a business.
Most music fans will know the ringing sensation experienced after a night spent clubbing or at a concert. The loud ringing in the ears is a common occurrence caused by exposure to loud environments, for example listening to music on mp3 players or from operating machinery.
As part of their Young Scientist project, Togher and O’Carroll, along with fellow Ursuline College Sligo student Niamh Chapman, developed a one-minute web-based therapy to clear the ears of the ringing sensation.
In loud environments damage is done to the sound receptor cells in the cochlea, the part of the ear which converts wave vibrations into electric signals before sending these signals onto the brain. When these receptor cells get bent or damaged during exposure to the loud noises, signals continue to be sent to the brain even after the exposure to the noise has ceased. This results in a continued perception of a noise that isn’t there.
The minute-long therapy developed by the students is based on sound and wave theory, and uses a low hum to physically stimulate the cochlear hairs back into their original upright position.
“If we had won the competition, we wouldn’t have been able to set up the company as we would have had to further the project for other competitions. Losing was actually a blessing in disguise, though we were devastated at the time,” Togher says.
Following the competition, Togher and O’Carroll further developed the therapy, after they were contacted by numerous people looking for it, and began offering it to members of the public for free.
“In May 2009, just before we sat our exams, the county enterprise board in Sligo contacted us and told to incorporate and start charging for our product. We hadn’t a clue as we only had Junior Certificate business, so we incorporated with our teacher, Anthony Carolan.”
The three officially launched their website in August 2009, with 700 people purchasing the therapy on the first day. Since then, more than 6,500 people worldwide have purchased it.