Strathclyde researchers seek diagnostic tool for respiratory condition

Readouts from RRP voice tests

A new approach to diagnosing a respiratory condition that can affect children’s voices is being investigated at the University of Strathclyde.

The study is using analysis of voice recordings to help identify children with recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), a rare condition in which wart-like growths occur in the airway.

Although the condition is essentially benign, it can spread through the airway, causing local destruction to normal tissue.  Very rarely it may predispose to malignant change or respiratory failure.

The effect of RRP on the airway can leave a child with breathing problems and a very hoarse voice, which in turn can have a socially isolating effect. Diagnosis also involves a procedure which children often find uncomfortable.

Dr Gaetano Di Caterina, a Research Fellow in Strathclyde’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, is leading the study, with Dr Wendy Cohen of the University’s School of Psychological Sciences & Health, Prof John Soraghan, also of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, and David Wynne, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow.

Dr Cohen said: “Some children develop wart-like growths in their airway which need to be removed surgically.   These children need support so that they can breathe and talk easily.

“Children who have hoarseness or breathing problems are usually seen as outpatients by Ear, Nose and Throat specialists and their larynx is viewed using a nasendoscope, a camera placed in their nose. While some children can tolerate this, others need to be called back for a different procedure under general anaesthetic.

“They can present similar symptoms to children with other benign conditions, such as vocal fold nodules, but specialists’ experience suggests that all cases of RRP show a markedly different voice quality to other voice problems. However, the acoustic analysis procedures currently available do not illustrate any features that distinguish cases of RRP from other conditions.

Our research will make a more detailed analysis of paediatric voice clinic recordings using the expertise offered by Dr Di Caterina, and his team from the Centre for Signal and Image Processing, to develop a new, non-invasive diagnostic tool for RRP.”

RRP affects around 1.4 people per 100000 – equivalent to around 930 in the UK.

The Strathclyde researchers are working on the project with paediatric voice specialists from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

The project is being funded by Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity with funds raised by the Marc Atkins Fund.

Kirsten Sinclair, Director of Fundraising at Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity, said: “We are so grateful to Marc’s family for all of their support, which has left a very special legacy in Marc’s name. Through research, we can ensure that children with rare conditions can receive the best possible care in the future”.

The University of Strathclyde has been ranked first in the UK for Aural & Oral Sciences in the 2019 Complete University Guide.