Can Brain Stimulation Improve Fluency? ASHFoundation-funded researcher investigates concurrent brain stimulation and speech-language treatment on adults who stutter. Foundational Questions
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Foundational Questions  |   November 01, 2018
Can Brain Stimulation Improve Fluency?
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Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Fluency Disorders / ASHA News & Member Stories / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Foundational Questions
Foundational Questions   |   November 01, 2018
Can Brain Stimulation Improve Fluency?
The ASHA Leader, November 2018, Vol. 23, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.23112018.np
The ASHA Leader, November 2018, Vol. 23, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.23112018.np
Name: Soo-Eun Chang, PhD, CCC-SLP, Rosa Casco Solano-Lopez Research Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Michigan
ASHFoundation Award: 2014 Clinical Research Grant ($75,000), “Enhancing Speech Motor Function in Stuttering Speakers with Neuromodulation: A tDCS Study”
What is the focus of your research?
My research is in the area of developmental stuttering. I use multimodal neuroimaging methods to investigate neural bases of stuttering in children and adults. I currently conduct a large-scale longitudinal study, funded by an NIH-R01 grant, that examines developmental trajectories of brain, language, cognitive and other measures that predict persistence versus recovery of stuttering during childhood.
Another area of research looks at the effects of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques on increasing fluency and brain functional connectivity linked to fluent speech in speakers who stutter. The ASHFoundation clinical research award provided seed funding for this latter work.
How did your award from the ASHFoundation lead to your current work?
The ASHFoundation award allowed postdoctoral research fellow Emily Garnett and I to complete the first high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) study in stuttering. We are now leveraging that work to conduct a randomized control trial of HD-tDCS to examine the effects of applying intensive brain stimulation on brain functional connectivity, speech fluency and other behaviors.
What do you hope to demonstrate through your research—or what has it already demonstrated?
We hope to demonstrate the potential for using concurrent brain stimulation and speech treatment to augment and extend positive effects on fluency. Compared to conventional tDCS, HD-tDCS better localizes stimulation to targeted areas. The stimulation is thought to enhance activity and connectivity of neural networks that are associated with speech fluency, and this can be maximized by pairing it with speech-language treatment.
Why did you choose this particular research focus?
Treatment options for stuttering, particularly for adults who stutter, are limited and have a high relapse rate. We need breakthroughs in intervention. Guided by our previous research on differences in brain function and anatomy in stuttering, we chose to test the feasibility of targeting areas of the brain found to be weaker in speakers who stutter to enhance their function. We have a long way to go before establishing treatment parameters, but this is one of the first steps toward developing a neuroscience-guided treatment for stuttering.
How has ASHFoundation funding affected your professional life?
ASHFoundation funding has allowed me to pursue a new and completely different direction in my research, one that has true translational neuroscience aims. My long-term goal as a scientist is for my basic research findings to lead to translational and clinical research that could, in turn, lead to concrete clinical applications. The ASHFoundation funding has allowed me to come closer to this goal—it has allowed me to hire an outstanding new investigator who is now leading the effort on this line of research in my lab. She is conducting the first randomized control trial of HD-tDCS in stuttering adults.
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November 2018
Volume 23, Issue 11