2008 New Investigators Research Grant, 2010 New Century Scholars Research Grant
An Auspicious Beginning
“It all started with the New Investigators Research Grant,” says Rita Patel.
The "all" is her career as researcher and director of the Voice Clinic at the University of Kentucky (UK). The clinic, which Patel was also instrumental in building, now has 200 patients per month from all over the state of Kentucky as well as from neighboring states. That’s a very big "all" indeed. Patel is currently an assistant professor in the department of speech and hearing sciences at Indiana University.
Patel’s main research interest is in the area of pediatric vocal development and the establishment of physiological biomarkers of the unique features of the developing voice. Her goal is to construct biomechanical models that would lay the foundation for the creation of tools for the early assessment of vocal disorders. Currently, because no norms exist for children, they are assessed using adult norms. "We know that vocal fold layer structure is different for adults and children," says Patel, "so it’s very important to collect appropriate normative data on children."
The other research area that interests Patel relates to the pathophysiology of hoarseness resulting from severe voice disturbances, spasmodic dysphonia, for example. Here too there is a need for better assessment tools as well as for established outcome measures that will enable clinicians to identify subtypes of different disorders by correlating muscle activity with vocal fold kinematics. With the help of the ASHFoundation’s New Century Scholars Research Grant, Patel has set up a novel experiment, completed the pilot study, and is in the process of submitting an investigator-initiated grant for additional funding.
Patel’s New Investigators Research Grant—the award that started it all—allowed her to collect the pilot data on normal children that later formed the basis of her successful application for an NIH R03 grant. Patel credits the ASHA-sponsored Clinical Practice Research Institute program and Drs. Nadine Connor, Diane Bless, and Susan Thibeault of the University of Wisconsin at Madison for assisting her in writing the grant and in developing the confidence necessary to compete for funding.
The R03 grant, which looks at pediatric vocal development, is multidisciplinary, with the UK College of Engineering and the Department of Otolaryngology. Patel works with engineering doctoral students and communication disorders undergraduate and master’s students looking at vibratory kinematic features of the voice that have not been previously researched. She is hopeful that the results of their work will directly translate to the clinic by producing meaningful findings and measures that can be applied to pediatric vocal health outcomes and will thus reduce the burden of illness and disability caused by voice disorders in children.
Patel urges generous support of the ASHFoundation. The future of research depends on it—as does the future of those whom that research directly affects. "There is a tremendous need for well-rounded approaches to assessment and treatment," she says, "and research is the only way to provide that information. Receiving an ASHFoundation award does not just change one person’s life but it changes the lives of millions of individuals affected by communication disorders."
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