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Voice, Speech, and Language Program
Studies of voice and speech disorders focus on determining the nature, causes, treatment and prevention of disorders such as stuttering, speech-sound acquisition disorders, and motor speech disorders. Oral speech communication may not be a realistic option for individuals with severe dysarthria. Substantial progress has been made in the development of augmentative communication devices to facilitate the expressive communication of persons with severe communication disabilities. An investigation of conversational performance by augmentative communicative device users is in progress. Other funded research evaluates whether a low-cost, laser-activated keyboard for accessing personal computers is feasible. By providing access to computers, individuals with disabilities can immediately use personal computer software programs and speech synthesizers for augmentative communication.
NIDCD funded investigators are exploring the use of non-viral gene transfer for the delivery of growth factors applied to re-innervation of laryngeal muscles in an animal model. This will have direct relevance towards creating a more practical treatment strategy for human disorders, including treatment of laryngeal paralysis and other peripheral nerve injuries. Others are studying the limbic and motor system interaction in laryngeal function using an animal model to better understand mechanisms of voice disorders and speech disorders and their recovery.
Spasmodic dysphonia is a unique voice disorder with significant physical and emotional burden. A phase 1 randomized prospective clinical trial comparing Botox injection, a combination treatment of behavioral intervention and Botox injections, and sham therapy and Botox is being conducted.
Investigators are actively working to provide locked-in individuals with a direct means of producing speech to allow rapid communication between the individual and care givers as well as control of computers. This will be accomplished through the development of a direct brain-to-speech generator for use in humans which will use an individual's neural signals.
Language research continues to expand the understanding of the role of each hemisphere of the brain in communication and language, of early specialization of the brain, and of the recovery process following brain damage. This research will further our understanding of the neural bases of language disorders. Research on acquisition, characterization and utilization of American Sign Language is expanding knowledge of the language used by many people who are deaf.
Language researchers supported by NIDCD are also exploring the genetic bases of child language disorders, as well as characterizing the linguistic and cognitive deficits in children and adults with language disorders. Researchers are developing effective diagnostic and intervention strategies for children who are autistic, or have specific language impairment, as well as adults with aphasia.