Bengaluru doctor designs Rs 50 device to give patients their lost voice back

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Old 25-Dec-2015
Miss Alone
Bengaluru doctor designs Rs 50 device to give patients their lost voice back

Throat cancer patients who have lost their voice can look forward to speaking again, without having to shell out thousands on an artificial voice box. A Bengaluru-based oncologist has invented a voice prosthesis priced at just Rs 50. The device weighs just about 25 grams and is seen as a boon for the poor.

"Speaking is a right. When the voice box of patients is removed during surgery, they crave to speak. As if the trauma of the disease is not enough, the shock of having lost their voice takes a toll on them, emotionally. The prosthesis available in the market costs Rs 20,000 (to be changed once in six months) and is not viable for many poor patients. My objective was to design something that is affordable and can give them their voice back," said Dr Vishal Rao, oncologist and head and neck surgeon, HCG Cancer Care.

The device has been aptly named Aum voice prosthesis. "We decided to term it Aum, as that is the sound which first resonated across the universe. Regaining one's voice is so much like a rebirth," said Rao. He took the help of his friend Shashank Mahesh, an industrialist, to deal with the financial aspect of the project. Though it costs Rs 50, they called it the $1voice box to make it match international standards.

While Dr Rao provided the technical inputs, Shashank brought in the industrial perspective and looked into the project's feasibility. "We imported platinumcured silicone (two-component high tear strength and flexible mould or casting compounds) from Germany to design the prosthesis. We had to make sure it didn't react with body tissues," said Dr Rao.

Ramakrishna, 55, a watchman from Peenya suffering from throat cancer, was the first recipient of the prosthesis."He was a beedi addict. He Had been smoking for years to keep awake at night. He suffers from throat cancer and we had to remove his voice box. He was given a western voice prosthesis.

Though it had a shelf life of six months, he used it for two years as he couldn't afford a new one. He came to me with tears in his eyes saying that food was leaking through the prosthesis. Our deviceinnovation was just about ready and we offered it to him for Rs 50. He regained his speech and returned with a million dollar smile, telling me that he was doing fine. That was the biggest gift for me," said Dr Rao.

So far, the $1voice prosthesis has benefited three patients in HCG. It recently bagged the state innovation award at a recent conference of oncologists. In the next three months, the duo will keep track of its functioning and upgrade it if necessary. The ethical committee and the scientific committee at HCG has cleared it for further research on itthe device.

At any given point of time, there are over 1.5 lakh cases of tobacco-induced cancer in the state, and one-third of them are of head and neck cancer, which poses the risk of voice box removal.

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