Canterbury researcher wins Royal Society Medal for teaching patients how to swallow
University of Canterbury Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee has been presented the MacDiarmid Medal by Royal Society Te Apārangi for sustained excellence in translational research to improve outcomes for individuals with swallowing impairment.
University of Canterbury Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee and Esther Guiu Hernandez
Early in Professor Huckabee’s career, electrodes were used around the neck and throat with the intention of strengthening the muscles needed for swallowing. Unexpected improvement was observed in a patient who had severe brain damage in the area of the brain normally associated with swallowing, and from here the technique of training another part of the brain to control swallowing was born.
The technology has since been refined into ‘a therapeutic videogame’ that allows patients to see aspects of their swallowing response on the screen. Through this, the patient learns to better control swallowing by controlling the image on the screen. Professor Huckabee says that offering a personalised view of swallowing for these patients allows them to visual what they are trying to achieve.
In 2014, Professor Huckabee founded the UC Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research based at St George’s Hospital, Christchurch, a multi-disciplinary research and clinical facility with a focus on bioengineering applications for stroke rehabilitation. Patients visit from around the world to undergo intensive treatment using her biofeedback techniques. Evidence shows that early intensive treatment works best to rehabilitate swallowing in patients, and she is working to influence healthcare practice worldwide.
Her biofeedback rehabilitation protocol has been well received across Europe and Australasia, leading to development of the soon-to-be-released, app-based wireless system, allowing intensive home rehabilitation without increased associated healthcare resources.