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Priority Areas in Voice, Speech, and Language Research

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The NIDCD Voice, Speech, and Language Program contains areas of research that overlap with mission areas of other NIH ICOs. For example:

  • Language: The normal acquisition of language is within the mission area of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Additionally, normal language decline as a result of normal aging is within the mission of the National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIDCD research focuses on language acquisition in the presence of dysfunctions, diseases, and disorders that alter the traditional developmental course such as hearing loss, ASD, SLI, and aphasia.
  • Literacy: As with language, the normal acquisition of literacy skills and individual outcomes in educational settings are within the mission of NICHD. NIDCD supports research into literacy for people who are deaf and HoH, the acquisition of written language for people with pre-existing language disorders, and educational interventions to support improved individual outcomes.
  • Swallowing: Speech and swallowing functions have some shared structures, leading NIDCD to fund research on swallowing and disordered swallowing (dysphagia). Dysphagia often occurs as a result of a disease process such as neurologic conditions or head and neck cancer. Therefore, many NIH ICOs, such as NIDDK, NIA, NINDS, NCI, NICHD, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), share an interest with NIDCD in research on swallowing and dysphagia.

Priority Area 1

Understanding Normal Function

  • Laryngeal System: Examine effects of laryngeal muscle function and structure (e.g., muscle fiber and mucosal changes) on vocal health, in particular with respect to voice training and vocal dose—the amount, intensity, and distribution of voice use.
  • Motor Speech Production: Determine the similarities and differences in development and functioning of neural and musculoskeletal systems for human voice and speech production vs. non-speech oral motor control in order to identify the sensorimotor principles underlying typical speech development and adult speech motor control.
  • Databases: Establish normative databases through the human lifespan for anatomic, acoustic, and physiologic measures that have clinical application for voice, speech, and language.
  • Developmental Plasticity: Identify behavioral changes, sensory and motor plasticity, and the underlying neural mechanisms associated with voice and speech motor learning in children (e.g., sensorimotor adaptation).
  • Sign Language Research: Investigate the acquisition, processing, and neural underpinnings of languages within the visual-manual modality.
  • Literacy and Deafness: Identify factors associated with the successful comprehension and use of written language for people who are deaf.

Priority Area 2

Understanding Diseases and Disorders

  • Genetics: Identify genetic and epigenetic factors that contribute to voice, speech, and language impairments.
  • Neural Plasticity: Examine changes in brain structure and functioning in response to behavioral, pathologic, or environmental insult as a basis for voice, speech, and language impairments.
  • Epidemiology: Identify genetic, neural, sensorimotor, cognitive, linguistic, behavioral, demographic, and environmental factors associated with voice, speech, and language impairments. Determine the relative contribution of those factors to risk for development of, or recovery from, impairment.
  • Pathophysiology: Identify the pathophysiologic and cognitive mechanisms underlying voice, speech, and language impairments.
  • Natural History: Determine the progression and developmental course of voice, speech, and language impairments.
  • Co-Occurring Conditions: Examine factors (e.g., social context, inflammatory response) that interact or coexist with primary voice, speech, and language impairments. Examine diagnostic and treatment strategies for voice, speech, and language impairments that may coexist in individuals with deafness.

Priority Area 3

Improving Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

  • Biomarkers: Develop biomarkers (e.g., genetic, imaging) to support diagnosis, improve accuracy of prognosis, improve treatments, or monitor response to treatment of voice, speech, and language impairments.
  • Hypothesis-Driven Interventions: Develop models of intervention informed by cognitive, linguistic, biological, or neurophysiological processes, accounting for cultural and linguistic variation.
  • Efficacy: Using outcomes-based clinical studies and randomized clinical trials, determine the efficacy of proposed interventions for the prevention and treatment of voice, speech, and language impairments.
  • Prevention: Develop programs that prevent the onset or limit the severity of voice, speech, and language impairments for people with genetic, occupational, environmental, or other risks.
  • Improving Literacy in Deaf Individuals: Develop methods that promote the acquisition of literacy skills during childhood and improve the reading and writing abilities of people who are deaf and have limited literacy.
  • Understudied Populations: Develop new interventions or approaches for understudied populations (e.g., school-aged, minimally-verbal children with ASD) or conditions (e.g., stuttering and apraxia of speech in children and adults).
  • Assistive Technologies: Harness recent advances in bioengineering to inform the development of novel augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) approaches and to enhance BCI technologies for communication.
  • Training: Promote the cross training of basic scientists, clinician scientists, and physician scientists to facilitate the development of interdisciplinary research teams and to stimulate translational research.

Priority Area 4

Improving Outcomes for Human Communication

  • Novel Delivery: Translate conventional interventions into new delivery models (e.g., group, family, telehealth, emerging technology platforms).
  • Screening: Develop effective and efficient clinical screening tools for use in health and community settings such as schools, primary care physician offices, and senior centers.
  • Comparative Effectiveness Research and Evidence-Based Medicine: Through clinical trials and epidemiological comparative effectiveness research, identify best treatments for a given communication disorder for a defined set of individuals. Develop and use clinical registries, clinical data networks, and other forms of electronic health data to inform the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about health care options to improve outcomes for individuals with communication disorders.
  • Community-Based Research:
    • Promote community-based research and data collection to identify factors that influence outcomes for people with voice, speech, or language impairments, and to inform the development of public policy recommendations.
    • Examine community-level health promotion strategies to prevent the occurrence of, reduce the risk of, or improve the adherence with treatment of voice, speech, and language impairments.
  • Training:
    • Train clinicians and physicians (e.g., speech-language pathologists, otolaryngologists) in the science knowledge base to enhance uptake of new research findings into practice.
    • Develop a cadre of science dissemination experts in voice, speech, and language to hasten the translation of research advances to routine community practice.
  • Bridging the Gap between Research and Practice:
    • Determine effective dissemination and implementation strategies that enhance the adoption of voice, speech, and language clinical discoveries into routine community practice.

Summary

The mission of the NIDCD is to conduct and support biomedical and behavioral research and research training in the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. The Institute also conducts and supports research and research training related to disease prevention and health promotion; addresses special biomedical and behavioral problems associated with people who have communication impairments or disorders; and supports efforts to create devices that substitute for lost and impaired sensory and communication function.

The goals listed in the NIDCD Strategic Plan are an assessment of research areas that present the greatest scientific opportunities and public health needs over the next five years for the three program areas: hearing and balance; taste and smell; and voice, speech and language. The goals in the Strategic Plan’s Priority Areas are a guide for:

  • Scientists: To better understand the directions that NIDCD research may take in the future;
  • The NIDCD: To assist in developing FOAs and to identify projects for HPP nomination; and
  • The Public: To understand the state of communication sciences and to discover the scientific breakthroughs that are possible with sustained investments in biomedical research.

The Plan is not a complete list of all research areas that the NIDCD is currently supporting or plans to support in the future. The NIDCD is committed to supporting new, innovative, hypothesis-driven, meritorious research; however, the Plan will assist us in identifying research areas that have a great opportunity to help the NIDCD improve the health and quality of life of people with communication disorders.