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child preparing for magnetic resonance imaging

What We Do



The University of Wyoming Speech Imaging Laboratory aspires to improve speech and surgical outcomes for individuals born with cleft palate. Our methodologies integrate imaging technology, advanced 3D computer visualization, and acoustic and aerodynamic speech data. These techniques allow us to examine the anatomy and physiology of the speech mechanism.


Current Projects 



Defining Post-Surgical Differences in Individuals with Cleft Palate 

Children born with a cleft palate typically undergo primary reconstruction of the palate (primary palatoplasty) between 6-12 months of age. The type of palatoplasty performed is often determined by the severity of the cleft and the operating surgeon’s training. It is estimated that 25-37% of children with a repaired cleft palate will need a second surgery to eliminate the presence of velopharyngeal dysfunction (Bicknell et al., 2002; Lithovius et al., 2014). A primary focus of our research is to quantify the anatomical and physiological underpinnings that define velopharyngeal function for normal speech and compare those to adults and children with repaired cleft palate. We employ magnetic resonance imaging techniques to investigate the differences between typical anatomy and abnormal function using advanced, highly innovative methods. These notable differences inform our knowledge of the velopharyngeal system and what is required to achieve typical speech production. 


Demonstrating Impact of Surgical Intervention on Patient Anatomy 

We have begun applying MRI methodology to assess outcomes of specific surgical techniques in children with repaired cleft palate. This line of research is fueled by previous findings that indicate children and adults with repaired cleft palate have differences in post-surgical anatomy despite achieving velopharyngeal closure and normal resonance. Controlling for confounding variables such as surgical procedure type and operating surgeon, the specific impact of surgical intervention on the velar musculature can be quantified and compared. We assess structure of velopharyngeal musculature at rest as well as the function of these muscles during speech production. Our findings may provide a foundation to inform the surgical planning process in cleft care and optimize outcomes, thus reducing the need for multiple surgeries.



The Speech Imaging Laboratory has been supported by the following mechanisms:

  • Start-Up Support, University of Wyoming College of Health Sciences

  • Start-Up Support, Wyoming IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence (P20GM103432)

  • Research Support Grant, Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation

  • Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31DE027878) 



The Speech Imaging Laboratory regularly disseminates results on regional, national, and international platforms. We are currently affiliated with over 50 presentations. Follow us on Twitter to see recent presentation updates!

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