Innovator Spotlight Q&A Series: Clas Linnman, PhD
The Center for Innovation in Digital HealthCare Innovator Spotlight is a Q&A series that celebrates innovative ideas, highlights the important work that digital health innovators are doing to advance patient care and outcomes at Mass General Hospital, and shares key learnings about the innovation journey.
There is so much expertise at MGH and Harvard, so it is great to reach out to colleagues early in your innovation journey.
Q: Tell us about your innovation and the challenge(s) you were trying to solve.
CL: The idea is quite simple. Tinnitus is a common consequence of hearing loss and there are some overlaps in how the brain responds to hearing loss with how the brain responds to loss of sensory signals, such as after an amputation. The brain sometimes misinterprets those missing signals, and instead creates a “phantom limb,” or, in the case of damage to hearing, a “phantom sound.” We can treat phantom limbs with mirror box therapy, where a mirror is placed to create an illusion of the missing limb. This allows the brain to use visual signals to re-interpret the lack of signals form the amputated limb, and one can “wiggle the fingers of the phantom hand.” This can be an effective way to reduce phantom pain. The idea here is to do the same to the ears: A pair of headphones with microphones is used to swap sounds from the right ear to the left ear canal, and vice versa. This “mirrors” the soundscape, so that things on ones left are heard as if they were on the right. In a pilot trial, we found that this mirroring, called “Auditory Mirror Therapy” can significantly reduce tinnitus.
Q: The innovation process can be long and challenging, but also rewarding. What inspired you to begin this journey?
CL: The simplicity of the idea. I like to tinker and built the first prototypes just to try the idea out.
Q: Please tell us about your overall experience and some of the major milestones you’ve achieved so far? What are the next steps?
CL: The first milestone was to do the pilot trial and see that this may actually work. A second major milestone was filing a patent application. As for next a step, we would like to start conversations with companies like Bose.
Q: What resources have been most helpful to you, and that you think other MGH innovators would benefit from?
CL: I could not have gone through the patenting process myself. You can find a lot of support within the Mass General Brigham system like the MGH Center for Innovation in Digital HealthCare (CIDH), so that has been a great help. Also, with the recently secured funding, we can now conduct a larger and placebo-controlled trial to see if the product works, and CIDH’s guidance on the best way to spend the grant funds has been a tremendous help.
Q: What advice would you give to other innovators at MGH that you wish you had been given early in your innovation journey?
CL: Make sure you have documented your IP and go ahead and test things early to see if they fly. There is so much expertise at MGH and Harvard, so it is great to reach out to colleagues early in your innovation journey.