Smoking’s decreasing prevalence in the U.S. has resulted in fewer laryngectomies in this country, which is good news indeed. Worldwide, however, according to the MARCS Institute at Western Sydney University, more than 300,000 people have had their larynx removed, primarily to treat cancer in the organ. The same group also reports the number of global cases increases by 10,000 each year. Without a larynx, people cannot speak naturally. The most prevalent current solutions receive signals from the muscles and nerves that formerly controlled the missing larynx. The standard devices include an instrument inserted through a stoma in the front of the patient’s throat and an external electronic box held against the throat. Neither replacement device produces a natural-sounding voice.

The Bionic Voice research group at the MARCS Institute recently published in PLOS One the successful results of a pre-clinical trial of a noninvasive, nonsurgical digital solution controlled with human breath. The Pneumatic Bionic Voice Prosthesis has three components. A structure holding a set of pressure sensors is taped externally to the base of the throat. A hybrid electronic voice source is encased in a second structure that fits inside the upper jaw; it generates voice and airflow segments. Finally, an external electronic component monitors the pressure valves and controls the sound output. The bionic system uses the same principles the earlier successful PAL Pneumatic Bionic Voice system. The earlier PAL’s blow tube held between the lips resulted in a pleasant sounding voice but was physically cumbersome, The MARCS Institute design replaces the blow tube with wireless signals. In the recent study, the Bionic solution matched the PAL system’s speech components at a 98.45% accuracy level.

Based on the preliminary results, the MARCS Institute team is engaging on further testing with the expectation that the Bionic Voice System may replace the current throat insert and the external box solution to give laryngectomy patients a natural-sounding voice without the need for additional surgery.