Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

Innovators in Queensland keep busy during the pandemic and work on medical technology that can help change lives.

A bionic voice box and an artificially intelligent pancreas are among the list of inventions Bionics Queensland is pioneering this year.

CEO Robyn Stokes has made it her mission to promote the talent that helps put Sunshine State on the medical technology world stage.

“With medical bionics, it really is a global market, so we need to pave the way for our Queensland innovators to reach the world,” said Dr Stokes.

One of these innovators is Dr. Farzaneh Ahmadi, who has developed a bionic voice box for people who have lost their voice due to throat cancer that occurs in the throat.

voice box technology.
The Laronix voice box is non-invasive and portable, which means it does not require surgery as current technology does.(ABC News: Jessica Rendall)

Survivors of this disease usually have to remove their larynx and lose their voices as a result.

Current artificial speech boxes on the market need to be surgically implanted and produce a lot of robotic sounds.

“Currently, for anyone who loses their larynx, there is no technology to regain their natural voice, so they will lose the human element in their voice forever,” said Dr. Ahmadi.

On the other hand, Dr. Ahmadi’s voice box-Laronix Artificial Intelligence (AI) to study respiratory signals emitted by a person’s body when trying to speak, and uses this information to generate a naturally sounding voice from a database.

A blonde-haired woman in a black jacket and black and white top listens to a woman talking using the device
Bionics Queensland CEO Dr Robyn Stokes (right) says Queensland is changing the bionics game.(ABC News: Jessica Rendall)

“The AI ​​is actually very mature technology that has the ability to teach that if this is input, that’s how output should sound,” said Dr. Ahmadi.

Voices are an inherent personal part of a person’s character, and unfortunately for women, there have been no female voices available for those who have had the larynx removed.

Laronix changes that with its database of voices with men and women. Eventually, its developers hope to allow patients to get their own voice back using AI.

This technology will study a patient’s voice using old voice recordings or home videos to create a personal audio bank.

“It has to be high quality footage at the moment, but we hope that when the system matures, the footage and [home] videos will also help, “said Dr. Ahmadi.

The breakthrough gives strength in laryngeal cancer hope.

“Unfortunately, more than half a million people around the world living with this condition have the second highest suicide rate among all cancer survivors,” said Dr. Ahmadi.

“We live in a society where we are very impatient with speech impediments.

“We are not waiting for people with voice functions to come in.

“That was the point that we decided to change the status quo and then develop a solution that changed their lives,” she said.

Bobbi and daughter Amanda take a selfie.
Bobbi Lehman (left) and her daughter Amanda Oliver. Bobbi has had to live without a voice because an implanted voice box was too dangerous.(Delivered)

One of the lives of Dr. Ahmadi has already started to change, is Bobbi Lehmans.

Bobbi, 75, lost his voice after surviving cancer of the larynx.

Her daughter, Amanda Oliver, said her mother originally had a voice prosthesis that damaged the tissue in her neck because it had to be treated all the time.

“The prosthesis she had was leaking, which is quite dangerous because you can get fluid in the lungs, aspiration pneumonia,” Oliver said.

“She was in and out of the hospital trying to get these things fixed, and it got so problematic that she pretty much chose not to use that device.”

To avoid painful experiences like Mrs. Lehman, Dr. Ahmadi assured that her bionic voice box was portable.

Users will be able to stick a portion of the voice box on their neck and wear a headset connected to a tube, which is then placed in their mouth to help them speak.

Dr. Ahmadi hopes to get the ballot box on the market after 2022.

Artificial pancreas

Dr Nigel Greenwood in suit.
Dr. Nigel Greenwood wants to take the guesswork out of managing type 1 diabetes using artificial intelligence.(ABC News: Jessica Rendall)

Bionics Queensland has also fought for the creation of an artificial pancreas that uses AI to study a patient’s medical history and recommend tailored amounts of insulin.

The innovation was brought to life by Dr. Nigel Greenwood, who saw how dangerous miscalculation of carbohydrates could be for type 1 diabetics.

“People who have type 1 diabetes have tremendous difficulty regulating their blood sugar because their condition itself is unstable,” said Dr. Greenwood.

Louise smiles as she chats with Dr. Nigel Greenwood.  She is wearing a black sleeveless dress and holding an injector
Louise Harmon lives with type 1 diabetes and spends much of her day monitoring her blood sugar level.(ABC News: Jessica Rendall)

It’s something Louise Harmon, 21, knows all too well.

“A day in the life would involve checking my blood sugar before every meal and before I go to bed and associated injections involved in counting carbs,” Ms. Harmon said.

“A sick day or a miscalculated carbohydrate is really deadly,” she said.

Dr. Greenwood wants to take the guesswork out of a diabetic’s daily routine and harness the power of artificial intelligence.

“It’s a very peculiar disease, it means everyone is individual, and it means you can not do conventional statistical, one-size-fits-most dosing.”

Patients will tell the program what foods they plan to eat, and AI will develop an appropriate insulin plan based on what it has learned about the patient from their medical history.

The technology uses an advanced form of AI and is a world leader in its field.

“Ordinary AI is like training a dog, you can throw patterns at it, and it sees the patterns, but it never understands them,” Greenwood said.

Dr. Greenwood and his team are currently looking at making the program available on smart devices, but hope to partner with a U.S. company that makes insulin pumps.

“We are collaborating to build a true bionic artificial pancreas,” he said.

“It’s completely different from the way clinicians are currently dosing insulin, and that’s why we needed a very special pump for the implementation, which is the true bionic pancreas.”

He hopes the technology will make life a lot easier for diabetics like Mrs. Harmon.

“Unfortunately, much of the technology out on the market right now is not correct and it is not timely, which could lead to making the wrong decision,” she said.

“It’s so exciting to see what this could mean for the type 1 diabetes community and beyond.”


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