Artificial voice box priced at half a pack of cigarettes

Throat cancer patients who have lost their voice, and are unable to afford an expensive, imported voice box can now take solace. A voice prosthesis device called AUM, developed by Bengaluru-based Dr Vishal Rao, which costs Rs 50, was unveiled in the city on Monday.
Artificial voice box priced at half a pack of cigarettes
Representative Image

Chennai

When a lively Santhimmayya, a villager in Karnataka, approached Dr Vishal Rao for treatment for throat cancer, he was dejected lo learn that he would be losing his voice after laryngectomy (removal of the larynx or voice box). An imported prosthesis (an artificial device that replaces a missing body part) was beyond his reach as it would have cost him around Rs 30,000. That got Dr Rao, a head and neck surgeon at Health Care Global Enterprises Limited (HCG), thinking and he came up with an idea for a low-cost and effective prosthesis. “Smoking beedis and consumption of tobacco are the most common causes for throat cancer. A large section of this population belong to the lower income group. AUM is my attempt to create something affordable at less than dollar. However, there is no compromise on the quality or the effectiveness of AUM,” says Dr Rao. 
AUM, which was unveiled on Monday, has been tested on three patients so far, who are part of an ongoing study to determine the effectiveness of the prosthesis. 
How it works 
During laryngectomy, the trachea (wind pipe) and oesophagus (food pipe) are separated and an opening is created between them. This opening Is called trachea-oesophagus puncture. At this point, though patients can eat, they are unable to speak due to the absence of the voice box. Therefore, they need an improved voice box, which has a one-way valve to be placed in the opening. 
Dr Rao adds,” If air passes through the food pipe in the lungs, it will vibrate and create noise which can be converted into speech with coordination from the brain. In order to ensure that food or water doesn’t enter the lungs, AUM has a one-way valve.” 
Weighing 25 gm, and 2.5 cm long, AUM is made of platinum-cured silicone (medical grade). Dr Rao worked closely with his friend Shashank Mahesh who came forward to produce the device. 
Taking it across globe 
Dr Rao maintains that while the study will take another month to give an idea of the results, he has plans to take it across regions in the country, apart from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and Africa, where there is need for a low-cost prosthesis. “We are also in the process of getting a patent for the same,” he says. He insists that AUM doesn’t carry any religious connotation and that it signifies the first sound that first rang across the universe. 
Dr MS Senthil Kumar, senior consultant and endocrine tumour surgeon from the city says, “This innovation is a huge step at a time when we depend on the West for equipment. This charity-oriented research sets an example for youngsters in the field.” 
A growing epidemic 
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), every year 25,000 new cases of throat cancer cases are recorded in India. Among these, a significant portion consume tobacco. As much as 80 per cent of these patients are in stage four of the disease as a result of which their voice box has to be removed. Dr MS Senthil Kumar, senior consultant and endocrine tumour surgeon, from a leading private hospital in the city lauded the innovation. He added that a larger sample size would be necessary to determine the effectiveness of the aid in the long run. 

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