Tāmaki Innovation Campus

Tāmaki expertise helps tinnitus sufferers

Giriraj (Raj) Singh Shekhawat in the Audiology Clinics.
Giriraj (Raj) Singh Shekhawat’s interest in tinnitus evolved while working as a clinical audiologist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore.

Audiology PhD student Giriraj (Raj) Singh Shekhawat has a passport full of stamps that reflect his academic travels, and Singapore to acknowledge for his ‘aha!’ moment that ultimately led him to Tamaki Innovation Campus and a HealthEx award.

Indian born Giriraj is no stranger to travel, both as a child with his Indian Army father, and more latterly to further his academic studies. His academic sights were set high at the start, with a double masters in audiology and speech language pathology from Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped (Mumbai), where he topped the university with the highest ever marks since the course started.

He worked in Mumbai as an Audiologist for 18 months before moving to Houston, Texas as a speech language pathologist. Giriraj says, “I enjoyed my job but realised that I am more of an audiology person instead of a speech pathology person.”

An offer from Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore drew him to a position as clinical audiologist there for two years, where his interest in tinnitus evolved, shaping his future career.

Tamaki’s Dr Grant Searchfield was responsible for encouraging Giriraj to New Zealand to follow his passion for tinnitus research and is the main supervisor for his research on transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) intensity and duration effects on tinnitus suppression.

Giriraj was recently recognised with first place in Applied and Clinical Science at the HealthEx awards, a Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences initiative promoting research activity and presentation amongst undergraduate and postgraduate students.

“Around 15-20% of the population suffer from tinnitus in its varying forms, and around 1% need intervention to live with the disorder. There is no silver bullet and no cure, but there are ways to manage it and various intervention options ranging from external sounds to training the brain that can help sufferers,” he explains.

His research investigates the optimum combination of brain stimulation through tDCS and digital hearing aids. A pilot study explored settings for a mild current to stimulate the left temporoparietal area of the brain, underlying the neural network for tinnitus generation, along with the hearing aids. Some of the thinking came from work done in stroke rehabilitation by Dr Cathy Stinear who co-supervises Giriraj’s work.

His questions probed the amount of current, frequency of treatment and length of suppression to get the most effective result. The work was done as a double blind placebo trial, which pleases his sense of curiosity along with scientific disciplines. All 40 participants received hearing aids, but only half received tDCS. Data from the end of the final phase is eagerly awaited, not only for its obvious scientific outcome but also for Giriraj’s personal curiosity to see if perception matches reality.

The future is sound for the self-confessed Bollywood and Shortland Street fan, who describes himself as “an extrovert with a hankering to act and dance”. Giriraj, wife Anita, and one year old daughter Khushi (happiness) are enjoying their time in New Zealand.

“If I get the option to do a postdoc in tinnitus intervention in New Zealand, then it would be perfect,” he says thoughtfully.

Giriraj’s work was showcased recently on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Our Changing World’ programme

This article was first published in the December 2012 Tāmaki Update