Two OHNS Postdoctoral Fellows Receive Research Awards from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation

Robert Fujiki, PhD, CCC-SLP
Anumitha Venkatraman, PhD, CCC-SLP

Division of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery postdoctoral fellows Anumitha Venkatraman, PhD, CCC-SLP, and Robert Brinton Fujiki, PhD, CCC-SLP, have each been awarded a research grant from the American Speech-Hearing-Language Foundation. Both are members of OHNS professor Dr. Susan Thibeault’s research lab.

Venkatraman is receiving a $10,000 New Investigator Research Grant to explore how psychosocial stress affects the microbiome of the larynx, a structure in the throat that is often referred to as our ‘voice box’. “Psychosocial stress and voice production are linked. For example, during a stressful task, such as public speaking, you might notice changes in the way your voice sounds. We know that microbes in other parts of the body such as the gut respond to stress, but we don’t know if the same happens to the microbes in our larynx. If stress changes the composition of the laryngeal microbiome, it could potentially leave the larynx vulnerable to infection and/or harmful environmental triggers like pollution and smoke,” explained Venkatraman. Working with UW Associate Professor of Bacteriology Federico Rey, PhD, the study will use an animal model to compare the microbes in the larynx of unstressed versus unstressed mice. Results from this study will allow Venkatraman to gather the preliminary data needed to support a larger-scale research study to further explore the biological relationship between stress and the voice.

Fujiki will be receiving a $50,000 Mentored Clinical Research Grant for a two-year project that will develop an assessment tool specifically designed to identify voice disorders in children. “Pediatric auditory-perceptual assessments are currently conducted using protocols designed for adult voices, which can be problematic for young children,” said Fujiki. “Our goal is to develop a protocol that is suitable for use with pediatric populations.” To develop this tool, Fujiki will work with his mentor, Dr. Thibeault, to take a well-known measure used with adults and adapt the content of this measure to be more appropriate for children in different age groups, including sentences a patient is asked to read and question prompts that are meant to elicit conversational speech. The new questions and prompts will then be tested with children ages 3-17, with expert listeners rating normal versus abnormal vocal sounds. “I am excited about this grant because it will allow us to thoroughly examine the way we assess voice quality in children, and I’m hopeful it will help us better serve pediatric patients with voice disorders,” added Fujiki.