Tackling Voice and Speech Disorders: An Inside Perspective
From February to June of 2022, I had the opportunity to intern with Respeecher in developing its technology usage in healthcare.
I have always been fascinated with up-and-coming technologies that have the potential to revolutionize healthcare, which is why I was so excited to be working with a company that was presenting an innovative solution to a longstanding medical inadequacy.
Patients who suffer from voice and speech disorders often experience a great reduction in their quality of life due to the difficulty that they have in communicating with others.
However, Respeecher’s voice cloning and conversion technology presents a unique and promising solution: take whatever speech patients are able to produce currently and transform it into something that sounds more natural and may be easier to understand using artificial intelligence.
Prior to working with Respeecher, I had explored technological solutions to various medical issues, particularly in fields like epidemiology, cardiology, and neurodegenerative diseases.
However, the industry of voice and speech disorders was completely new to me. As an intern, my main focuses were assisting the company with research on the risks and burdens of various voice and speech disorders and establishing partnerships with other companies, institutions, and clinics with similar research goals.
With my prior background in medical research, I was able to identify various target diseases that the current Respeecher technology would be the most promising for. I focused extensively on laryngeal cancer patients who had undergone total laryngectomy (complete removal of the larynx).
To acquire test data to analyze the effectiveness of the current algorithm on laryngeal cancer patients, I reached out to Dr. Jun Wang’s lab at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Wang kindly offered us various recordings of total laryngectomy patients who now use assistive speaking devices. I then analyzed the test data and ran it through Respeecher’s system to determine areas of improvement for the technology.
Aside from laryngeal cancer, I also identified other disorders that could be candidates for Respeecher’s approach including Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, vocal fold paralysis, pharyngeal cancer, and dysarthria. Conducting background research on these disorders involved studying their pathophysiology, epidemiology, current treatment methods as well as inadequacies in these methods.
With further development, Respeecher’s technology could assist patients suffering from these highly prevalent and life-altering disorders.
My Internship Experience
As a high school senior, this internship was my first time working with an established company to expand to a new industry. Especially in the initial stages of any new development, there is no shortage of speaking with experts, establishing partnerships, and deep exploration of the field.
The past few months gave me an insider’s perspective to the culture of creativity and proactivity required for a successful tech company.
- Creativity: It takes not only an eye for observation, but also a mind for creative problem-solving to identify areas of necessary improvement in any field, but especially healthcare. Biotechnology is one of the most exciting and revolutionary fields of research, and effective solutions are grounded in a novel idea that has yet to be explored. Identifying the need to upgrade current speech and voice disorder treatment options and connecting the dots with the ways that Respeecher could fill such a demand planted the seed for my exploration. All of the other progress made thereafter (e.g. researching diseases, finding resources, etc.) required exploring creative ways to expand the technology for the better.
- Proactivity: Outreach is core to the culture of proactivity that is so important for every new endeavor. Reaching out to experts in the field, having fruitful and engaging conversations, and establishing mutually-beneficial partnerships are key ways to turn a vision into reality. Especially in a field that requires original test data that cannot be found in the public domain, establishing connections provides resources, advice, and expert testimony. The outreach skills and experiences I gained through this internship were invaluable, as I learned how to identify potential contacts, reach out effectively, and communicate the company’s message as clearly as possible.
I am confident that the healthcare track will be a great success for the company and will eventually aid thousands of patients suffering from debilitating speech and voice disorders.
In the foreseeable future for myself, I will be starting college at Harvard University in the fall where I will be studying Molecular and Cellular Biology.
It is my dream to become a doctor and research technologies that can improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of diseases that afflict far too many people across the world. Respeecher is pioneering one of those technologies, and I am so honored to have been a part of that journey!
by Stephanie Wang
This article was initially published on the Respeecher blog.