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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, but 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 

In collaboration with Children’s Hospital Colorado Department of Otolaryngology (Greg Allen, MD), 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.



Normative Growth of the Velopharynx in Infants and Toddlers 

In collaboration with Children’s Hospital Colorado Department of Radiology (Ilana Neuberger, MD), we are studying the typically developing velopharynx within the first two years of life. We have employed a large retrospective MRI database (N=200) of children under 24 months of age to demonstrate significant sex and growth effects on the velopharyngeal structures. This is the largest dataset used to study the velopharynx within this age range and the first to show significant sex effects in pre-pubertal children.



Understanding and Improving Training for Providers of Craniofacial Care

This area of research aims to improve the current standard of care for individuals with craniofacial conditions. We have used mixed methodology to better understand the current practice patterns and training mechanisms of multisiciplinary providers involved in craniofacial care, including continuing education opportunities and both formal and informal education. This information will help us to advance current training opportunities and promote the highest standard of care for affected individuals.



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

  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Advancing Academic Research Careers Award, 2020-2022

  • Wyoming IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence (P20GM103432)

    • Wyoming INBRE Thematic Research Projects, 2022-2024

    • Wyoming INBRE Undergraduate Research Assistantship, 2020-Present

      • Samantha Power (Fall 2020)

      • Katelan Rogers (2021-2022)

  • Start-up Support, Unviersity of Wyoming College of Health Sciences

  • 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 80 presentations. Follow us on Twitter to see recent presentation updates!

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