Dr Joan Ma  from the division of Speech and Hearing Sciences and Clinical Audiology, Speech and Language Centre (CASL) has been awarded an Innovation Fellowship in 2021/2022 to carry out a project entitled Ultrasound evaluation of swallowing – the development of a biomarker

Instrumental assessment of swallowing is an important tool for the clinical assessment of swallowing function by a speech and language therapist (SLT).  The Covid-19 pandemic had restricted the SLT access to traditional tools such as videofluoroscopy (x-ray of swallowing) and fibreoptic endoscopic examination of swallowing as these procedures were classified as aerosol-generating and increase the risk of disease transmission. This intensified the development of ultrasound as an adjunct tool for the clinical evaluation of swallowing.  

The Clinical Audiology, Speech and Language Centre at QMU has a long history of research of ultrasound in speech production.  Dr Joan Ma and her colleague, Prof Alan Wrench, had conducted pilot work in applying their knowledge in ultrasound to the evaluation of swallowing by developing a reliable recording protocol, identifying a possible biomarker and developing an automatic tracker for data analysis in the last few years.

Dr Joan Ma has been awarded a QMU Innovation Fellowship to investigate the use of hyoid bone movement as the biomarker in the ultrasound evaluation of swallowing and to continue to develop the application of machine learning to the analysis process. The outcomes of the fellowship will accelerate the translation of the novel use of ultrasound assessment of swallowing into the clinical practice of SLTs.