Bionic Voice Box For Those Who Lost Their Voice From Laryngeal Cancer

A Bionic Voice Box And An Artificially Intelligent Pancreas Are Among The List Of Inventions Bionics Queensland Is Pioneering This Year

Bionic Voice Box For Those Who Lost Their Voice From Laryngeal Cancer

Innovators in Queensland are keeping busy during the pandemic, working on medical technology that could help change lives. A bionic voice box and an artificially intelligent pancreas are among the list of inventions Bionics Queensland is pioneering this year. Chief executive Dr Robyn Stokes has made it her mission to foster the talent that is helping put the Sunshine State on the world stage of medical technology. “With medical bionics, it really is a global market, so we have to pave the way for our Queensland innovators to reach the world,” Dr Stokes said. One of those innovators is Dr Farzaneh Ahmadi, who has been developing a bionic voice box for people who have lost their voice as a result of laryngeal cancer, which occurs in the throat. Survivors of this disease usually have to have their larynx removed and lose their voices as a result.

Current artificial voice boxes on the market have to be surgically implanted and produce very robotic sounds. “At the moment, for anyone who loses their larynx, there is no technology to regain their natural voice, so they will lose that human element of their voice forever,” Dr Ahmadi said. On the other hand, Dr Ahmadi’s voice box — the Laronix — uses artificial intelligence (AI) to study respiration signals a person’s body makes when they are trying to speak and uses that information to generate a natural-sounding voice from a database.

“That AI is actually very mature technology that has the capability of learning that, if this is the input, this is what the output should sound like,” Dr Ahmadi said. Voices are an inherently personal part of a person’s character and, unfortunately, for women, there have been no female voices available for those who have had their larynx removed. The Laronix changes that, with its database of male- and female-sounding voices. Eventually, its developers hope to allow patients to get their own voice back by the use of AI. That technology will study a patient’s voice using old voice recordings or home videos  to create a personalised sound bank.

“It has to be high-quality recordings at the moment, but we’re hoping that, as the system matures, then the recordings and the [home] videos will also help,” Dr Ahmadi said.  The breakthrough gives larynx cancer survivors hope. “More than half a million people around the globe, who live with this condition, sadly, have the second-highest suicide rate among all cancer survivors,” Dr Ahmadi said. “We live in a society where we are very impatient about voice disabilities. “We don’t wait for people with voice disabilities to catch up. “That was the point that we decided to change the status quo and then develop a solution that changed their lives,” she said.  One of the lives Dr Ahmadi has already started to change is Bobbi Lehman’s.

Bobbi, 75, lost her voice after surviving laryngeal cancer. Her daughter, Amanda Oliver, said her mother initially had a voice prosthesis that damaged the tissue in her neck because it had to constantly be treated. “The prosthesis that she had was leaking, which is quite dangerous because you can get fluid in your lungs, aspiration pneumonia,” Ms Oliver said. “She was in and out of hospital trying to get these things fixed and it became so problematic that she basically chose not to use that device.” “She just had no choice but to be voiceless because it was becoming too dangerous.” To avoid painful experiences like Ms Lehman’s, Dr Ahmadi wanted to ensure her bionic voice box was wearable. Users will be able to stick part of the voice box on their neck and wear a headset that connects to a tube, which is then placed into their mouth to help them speak.  Dr Ahmadi hopes to have the voice box on market after 2022.

Bionics Queensland has also championed the creation of an artificial pancreas that uses AI to study a patient’s medical history and recommend tailored amounts of insulin. The innovation was brought to life by Dr Nigel Greenwood who saw how dangerous miscounting carbohydrates could be for type 1 diabetics. “People who have type one diabetes have enormous difficulty regulating their blood glucose, because their condition is inherently unstable,” Dr Greenwood said. It is something Louise Harmon, 21, is all too familiar with. “A day in the life would involve, checking my blood sugar levels before every meal and before I go to bed, and associated injections involved with carb-counting,” Ms Harmon said. “A sick day or a miscounted carbohydrate are really fatal,” she said.

Artificial pancreas

Dr Greenwood wants to take the guesswork out of a diabetic’s daily routine, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence. “It’s a very idiosyncratic disease, that means everyone is individual and it means you can’t do conventional statistical, one-size-fits-most dosing.” Patients will tell the program what foods they plan on eating and the AI will develop an insulin plan to suit, based on what it has learned about the patient from their medical history. The technology uses an advanced form of AI and is a world-first in its field. “Ordinary AI is like training a dog, you can you throw patterns at it, and it sees the patterns, but it never understands them,” Dr Greenwood said. “Whereas, our form of AI is aware of ambiguities in what it knows.”

Dr Greenwood and his team are currently looking at making the program available on smart devices but hope to partner with an American company that manufactures insulin pumps. “We’re collaborating to build a true bionic artificial pancreas,” he said. “It’s completely different from the way clinicians currently dose insulin and, so, for that implementation, which is the true bionic pancreas, we needed a very special kind of pump.” He hopes the technology will make life much easier for diabetics such as Ms Harmon. “Unfortunately, a lot of the technology out in the market right now isn’t accurate, and it’s not timely, which can lead to making a wrong decision,” she said. “This technology would change everything. “It’s so exciting to see what this can mean for the type 1 diabetic community and beyond.”

This news was originally published at ABC