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Coaxing a voice out of paralysis

NSF Award:

CAREER: Functional Electrical Stimulation to Aid Phonation in the Presence of Unilateral Vocal Fold Paralysis  (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

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Vocal fold paralysis affects approximately 7.5 million Americans.  Numerous conditions including head, neck or surgical trauma, endotracheal intubation, neurological conditions and cancer can cause abnormal vocal fold vibration and, in turn, voice disorders. Current treatment to activate muscle function may include botox injections, invasive electrical stimulus and voice therapy. However, abnormal activation of muscle patterns causes the muscles to function out of synchronization, resulting in low vocal output.

A less invasive approach, under development at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, involves an electromagnetic stimulation system (ESS) that reactivates laryngeal muscles involved in the vocal fold motion to improve sound vocalization, respiration and airway protection. Meant primarily for acute temporary paralysis, the ESS can be tailored to an individual's needs.

The vocal folds are composed of a three-part material stretched along the larynx, which enables frequency changes. Laryngeal muscles coordinate the motion of vocal folds during respiration vocalization, and aid in airway protection.

Images (1 of )

  • anatomy of the larynx
  • coil arrangement that stimulates vocal muscle contractions
Anatomy of the larynx.
Schematic of the primary coil (left) and secondary coil (right).
Alexander Leonessa, Virginia Tech

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