Speech and hearing professor Roger Ingham and his team of researchers are well on their way to developing the first effective treatment for stuttering.

Ingham’s 2001 study on a new treatment for stuttering disorders has turned into a multi-million dollar investigation funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The large-scale study is now being conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Ingham conducted his initial study on campus on just five individual subjects in order to research his idea for a new method of treatment for adults with stuttering problems. According to a press release from the UCSB Office of Public Affairs, Ingham’s original investigation was so successful that the NIDOCD gave $2.5 million to expand and test the professor’s research.

“If [the current study] proves as successful as the first, the treatment protocol could represent a breakthrough in effective and reliable treatment for stuttering in adults,” the press release said.

Ingham’s current research on stuttering will examine 50 subjects over the next five years. The researcher is hoping to determine whether his treatment, which involves direct human interaction with a computer program called Modifying Phonation Intervals, is equally as successful as it proved to be in the previous investigations on the initial five subjects.

Because there is no known drug that can successfully treat stuttering, Ingham is researching the genetic components of the affliction in people with stuttering disorders. According to the professor, adults who stutter have abnormal activations and deactivations in cerebral blood flow, specifically in the motor and auditory areas of the brain’s right hemisphere.

“In the 1990s, I realized that there was a neurological switch that can either be turned on or turned off,” Ingham said. “Thus, the trick is to change the system, so that the switch is turned off in the brains of those who stutter.”

Ingham uses MPI to treat his subjects. MPI works by identifying the speech patterns of the subjects in a series of pretreatment tests. The results of these tests help determine the appropriate computer treatment program.

“Gradually we developed computer software that allows people who stutter to establish a fluency, and once their stuttering disappears we begin to wean them off of the software. This program is especially exciting because it enables us to manage phoniety,” Ingham said.

Ingram said the five phases of MPI include: pretreatment, establishment, transfer, maintenance and follow-up. Participants are asked to do a series of speaking exercises in the midst of the treatment, as well as to manage their progress with the computer program.

Ingham said he is also currently working with Peter Fox, director of the Research Imaging Center, to conduct treatment evaluations with brain imaging, also known as positron emission tomography.

Fourth-year psychology major Denise Davis assists Ingham in his research and is currently testing two UCSB students who stutter. Davis does a pretreatment phase with the subjects before the students are sent to a corresponding lab in San Antonio – where Ingham and his partner Jeffrey Danhauer conduct CAT scans and brain imaging on their subjects.

“Our goal is to study what areas of the brain are activated and de-activated when people stutter,” Davis said. “There are three different trials that each subject participates in. First, I watch and listen as the subject reads aloud from a book. Second, the subject reads a monologue for three minutes. Thirdly, the subject will talk on the telephone. Basically, these trials are done within twelve different sessions.”

Ingham currently offers treatment to all UCSB students seeking help with stuttering disorders. Those interested should contact Ingham in the speech and hearing department. More information on Ingham and his study can be found at http://www.speech.ucsb.edu.