Research Projects Funded in 2023


Providing funding for seed grants nurtures and advances research into spasmodic dysphonia and related voice conditions. Through these grants, investigators are able to collect preliminary data, enabling them to seek more substantial funding from the National Institutes of Health. This strategic investment enables us to back multiple projects, fostering an expanded understanding of these vocal disorders. These grants are up to $75,000 annually. Many of our grants focus on potential new treatments, improved diagnostic tools, and identifying areas of the brain impacted by voice disorders. 

ABSTRACTS OF NEWLY FUNDED GRANTS | Click on the + sign to open the description

Yaël Bensoussan, MD, and Stephanie Watts, PhD
University of South Florida, Tampa, FL

This proposed study addresses a Quality of Life (QOL) challenge with automatic speech recognition (ASR) systems. Researchers are trying to understand specific acoustic (sound) and aerodynamic (breath) features of voice that impact the ability of individuals with dysphonia to interact successfully with automatic speech recognition systems (ASR). To do this, researchers plan to recruit patients with vocal fold paralysis, spasmodic dysphonia, and tremor to participate in data collection. Participants will complete an assessment at two time points (1) at an initial visit and (2) following the appropriate treatment for their voice disorder (Botox® versus injection augmentation). Typically, this will be 1-2 weeks following intervention when voice is maximally benefitted. The evaluations, using AI, will include an acoustic and aerodynamic voice assessment, completion of quality-of-life scales and interaction with ASR systems. Researchers will determine error rates for the ASR pre- and post-treatment. They will then calculate which acoustic measures may be impacting the error rates. The researchers are hopeful that, unlike approaches in the past, this information may be useful for informing algorithms/neural networks for better signal detection.

Zhaoyan Zhang, PhD
University of California, Los Angeles, CA

Spasmodic dysphonia is often evaluated in various subjective assessments, including auditory-perceptual evaluation, clinical visual evaluation of vocal fold vibration, and patient self-reported scales. These assessments are subjective in nature and rely heavily on clinician experience, and thus suffer from high inter- and intra-rater variability. These limitations often introduce outcome measure errors that confound treatment effects in clinical trials, making it difficult to evaluate and compare the efficacy of different treatment options convincingly. An important goal of SD research is thus to identify objective measures of severity. In a previous study through the Dystonia Coalition, we developed a computer algorithm that automatically extracts metrics of vocal fold vibration in SD patients. Our preliminary results showed that changes in these metrics were correlated with perceptual ratings of SD. This study aims to further evaluate these metrics’ effectiveness in quantifying treatment efficacy in alleviating LD symptoms and improving voice quality in SD patients

Christopher Honey, MD, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada, in collaboration with Stacey Halum, MD, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN

Our Dysphonia-International-sponsored trial of deep brain stimulation for six patients with adductor spasmodic dysphonia showed that this technique was safe and could improve both the quality of voice and the quality of life for these patients. That successfully completed Phase 1 trial has been accepted for publication in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Neurosurgery. This funding is to support a Phase 2 surgical trial to confirm that deep brain stimulation can improve the quality of life in patients with severe spasmodic dysphonia. This trial will involve ten patients with adductor SD and six patients with abductor SD. This double-blind study will eliminate any possible placebo effect. Patients will have DBS surgery, and then their stimulation will be turned “on” for 3 months or “off” for 3 months without the patients knowing. Their voice and quality of life will be measured during each of these settings and then compared to see which was better. The safety of this treatment will also be assessed by recording any complications or adverse events. Confirmation of diagnosis will be done in conjunction with Dr. Stacey Halum at Indiana University. We hope to provide new treatment options for patients. While we are studying the benefits of this therapy, we plan to investigate the brain pathways causing spasmodic dysphonia. This will provide novel insights into the cause of this condition and may allow new non-surgical treatments in the future.







In 2007, when our Scientific Advisory Board was established, grant funding was limited to a range of $10,000 to $20,000. While this amount was significant for our organization at that time, attracting applications posed a challenge. Thanks to the steadfast support of our community over the years, we have increased the research grant funding up to $75,000 annually, making it significantly more appealing for potential investigators. Furthermore, we have done away with the application deadline, firmly believing that valuable research should not have to wait.

We have also seen an increase in new investigators who are focusing on voice research, particularly in spasmodic dysphonia and related voice conditions. Increased funding has certainly played a role, and we have actively pursued the recruitment of new researchers through direct outreach, participation in international research conferences on dystonia, and networking via our Scientific Advisory Board. Our research program has undergone expansion to include Travel Research Awards, enabling us to establish collaborative partnerships with professional voice organizations and provide valuable support to emerging investigators.

Our unwavering goal remains constant—to accelerate our understanding and propel the science forward in the quest for improved treatments and cures for spasmodic dysphonia and related voice conditions. Furthermore, we eliminated the application deadline, firmly believing valuable research should not have to wait.



Dysphonia International recently partnered with the UCSF Voice & Swallowing Center to augment funding for a new clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of DAXXIFY as a treatment for people with adductor spasmodic dysphonia. Dr. Clark Rosen (pictured) is leading the study on this new neurotoxin.

Dysphonia International plays another role in research by providing smaller grants to our investigators. A modest infusion of funding can be critical in assisting our researchers in advancing a project. This typically ranges between $10,000 to $25,000. This could involve recruiting additional participants to enhance the robustness of a study, co-sponsoring a grant with another institution, or expanding the number of medical devices available for testing in a study. The following investigators/institutions received funding for their ongoing research in 2023.