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Virginia Tech researcher seeks to use electrical stimulation to give voice to stroke patients
Date:3/4/2011

olds can result in reinnervating the muscle, which also affects breathing and swallowing and other functions. The folds close and open almost like eye lids to create or release air pressure that vibrates the vocal chords, and makes sound. If one of the flaps is unable to close, no pressure, hence no sound, can be created. In many cases, be it from a stroke or injury, one of the folds is affected by paralysis, Leonessa said.

During the five-year study, Leonessa and his graduate student research team will work with doctors at the Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders (http://www.wfubmc.edu/Center-for-Voice-and-Swallowing-Disorders/), part of Wake Forrest University's Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. There, patients with paralyzed vocal folds will undergo electrical stimulation tests to see if small shocks can reinvigorate their ability to talk through forced contraction.

The effort has several challenges: Muscles are highly nonlinear and have time-varying characteristics, depending on the patient. Further, a stimulated muscle changes when fatigue occurs and individual muscle models are different. Even more challenging is the fact that there is a significant delay between stimulation and muscle contraction, adding to the processing and transmission delays in the electrical stimulation system.

Leonessa plans to develop a portable, noninvasive device that can be adjusted to each patient. The device itself would be no larger than an iPod, clipped to the belt, and have small wires leading to a patch over the patient's throat. An Atlanta-based tech company will help develop the device, which will come later in the five-year study if the use of electrical stimulation on the vocal folds holds promise for muscle and nerve rejuvenation.

"Breathing and swallowing have received much attention for patients with vocal fold paralysis, but vocalization is still considered an open problem with unresolved issues due to the complexity
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Contact: Steven Mackay
smackay@vt.edu
540-231-4787
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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