Dr. Jordan Green’s work in researching speech disorders has gained an important collaborator with Dr. Michael Brenner.
Green has been working with Brenner, the Michael T. Cronin Professor of Applied Mathematics and a professor of physics at Harvard University who also is one of Google’s Project Euphonia team leaders, to develop an app that would use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help people with speech disorders communicate. The Speech and Feeding Disorders Lab at the MGH Institute, of which Green is director, explores how to use new and emerging technologies to optimize communication in persons struggling to produce speech due to a variety of neurological and developmental conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, facial transplantation, and autism spectrum disorders.
The collaboration was a highlight of the Institute’s October 22 virtual fundraiser, “Educating the Future Front Line: The IHP Today.” The event, which was viewed by more than 200 alumni, faculty, staff, students, and friends of the Institute, raised more than $200,000 to support student scholarships. It included 55 people donating during the event to trigger an additional $5,000 challenge gift by an anonymous member of the Board of Trustees. Peter Brown was emcee for the event, which also featured remarks from President Paula Milone-Nuzzo, Trustee Angelleen Peters-Lewis, and Master of Physician Assistant Studies student Rejvi Shaju.
“Project Euphonia really touches on a lot of the amazing work that's happened at the IHP, particularly in the laboratory of Dr. Green over the last decade,” said Brenner. “In Dr. Green's lab, he has a variety of different creative approaches to help people who are dysarthric or who have motion disorders to try to help them communicate.”
Brenner pointed to how the rapid advancement of AI in recent years has allowed researchers to consider solutions to problems that seemed out of reach. “If you can communicate like I can, then you can speak to your device and your device will understand you. You can type on your device, and the device will understand you. But for many people who have disabilities, such communication is challenging,” he said. “The fact that we've become so much more connected and so much more dependent on technology makes it even more imperative that we find ways of making communication systems that really work for everyone.”
For Green, whose research is on the cutting edge of speech disorders, partnering with Brenner is an encouraging step. “The research and clinical communities are very excited about Project Euphonia’s commitment to improving speech recognition for people with speech disabilities,” said Green. “The team is leveraging Google's world-class AI technology, data pipelines, and talent. Getting this technology out of the research lab and into clinics and homes not only requires rigorous engineering, but also knowledge from clinical scientists, clinicians, and patients. The knowledge and expertise provided by clinical scientists, at the IHP and elsewhere, have a critical role to play in the development of life-changing, enabling technologies, such as automatic speech recognition.”
Shaju, who is in his second and final year of the PA program, is one of the many IHP students who are recipients of the financial assistance raised at the fundraiser and from many other generous donors. He told the audience of how he was first exposed to health care inequalities in Bangladesh, where he was born. But even after he and his family moved to Brooklyn, NY, those disparities – while better than in his home country – affected a large swath of the population.
Rejvi Shaju, PAS '21, spoke of how receiving a scholarship is helping him fulfill his dream.
The experience spurred him to pursue a career in health care to help the neediest. While he was accepted at the IHP, the challenge of paying to pursue his dream was a serious challenge for someone raised in an immigrant household that has never made over $40,000 a year. Additionally, it is not uncommon for someone finishing graduate school to have a combined debt load of over $150,000. Being named a Dr. Charles A. and Ann Sanders Scholarship recipient allayed much of that challenge. “It gave me the courage to move to another state to receive the training I needed at the IHP,” he said. “I am extremely grateful for having this opportunity to follow and achieve my dreams of becoming a clinician.”
Currently, he is doing an emergency medicine clinical rotation during which time he has cared for COVID-19 patients. “We are reminded during this global pandemic of the importance of health care professionals,” he said. “We are entrusted in the care for patients when they are at their weakest moments and strive to improve their health. Now more than ever, we need to support our health care community and the future clinicians of our country.”
Watch a highlight video of the event.
Watch a full video of the event.
- John Shaw