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Scientists extend studies of brain activity in stuttering (5-21-99)

Texans who are moderate to severe stutterers are invited to apply for a pair of studies to be conducted this summer at the Research Imaging Center (RIC). The center, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, seeks patients for image analysis of the brain mechanisms underlying stuttering, a speech disorder which affects 1 in every 100 Americans.

Patients 18 or older and who developed stuttering in childhood will be considered for eligibility. These are the first studies of their type anywhere, the center's director said.

One study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will explore the basis of prolonged speech, a strategy that teaches stutterers to prolong syllables slightly. Two California researchers scheduled to visit the RIC will assess individuals' response to prolonged speech training. "We will screen for people who are selectively responsive to this treatment," said Peter T. Fox, M.D., director of the Research Imaging Center. "Once we see a strong response in an individual, we will image the person to see how his or her brain is using prolonged speech."

The scanning method is positron emission tomography (PET), which uses radiation tracers to tag brain chemicals. PET images show brain activity, such as speech, while it is occurring.

A second study, funded by the Charles A. Dana Foundation, will focus on the brain's response to a technique called transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS). "In stutterers, we're trying to down-regulate an abnormal area," Dr. Fox said. "In earlier studies, we've identified a number of areas that are overactive in stuttering and a smaller number that are underactive. In this study, we will direct TMS therapy at a motor planning center near the top of the head."

Only 20 participants are needed, 10 in each study. Patients' travel will be reimbursed. This research is not available in Dallas, Houston or Austin. "The Research Imaging Center is the only place in the world approved to do this trial of TMS in stuttering," Dr. Fox said. "Other sites conduct studies of prolonged speech, but none is investigating its physiology in this way."

Individuals or family members may inquire about eligibility by calling (210) 567-8220.

Contact: Will Sansom