Elissa Greco (PhD student) conducted a systematic review on dysphagia treatment for patients with head and neck cancer treated with radiotherapy. Through meta-analysis, she found that behavioural dysphagia intervention is beneficial to measures of swallow function and physiology, regardless of intervention start time. This study was the first to pool data from several randomized controlled trials and observational studies to determine the overall benefit from active dysphagia intervention. This study is now published in a high impact journal (International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics).
Victoria Sherman, in the second year of her doctoral program, received the prestigious multi-year SickKids Clinician Scientist Training Program (CSTP) award (2017-2021). This scholarship is awarded yearly to only a few select students whose proposed research is based at SickKids and is judged as scientifically meritorious. As a recipient of this award, Victoria will participate in monthly seminars, attend annual national meetings, and have opportunities to meet and collaborate with other Canadian paediatric clinician researchers from a variety professions.
In April, Dr. Rosemary Martino had the honour of being a judge in George Brown College’s “Top Chef Challenge: Dysphagia”. This annual event, which takes place at the waterfront campus, involves teams made up of Culinary Arts students and staff from Baycrest, who compete to prepare a meal that is suitable for individuals with swallowing difficulties. The meal also has to be nutritionally balanced, aesthetically pleasing, and most importantly delicious. For more information about this event, please follow this link.
(Photography by Alexa Fernando – www.ajfernando.com)
In recent months, the Swallowing Lab team has been busy building bridges to sustain and promote dysphagia research and patient care throughout the continent. To that end, the lab eagerly accepted the opportunity to present its work at the ninth international conference of the American Head and Neck Society (ANHS). Held over five days in mid-July, the annual conference was designed to enable multidisciplinary collaborations amongst member clinicians in the pursuit of new mechanisms for head and neck cancer identification, treatments, and measurement of outcomes and quality of care.
Dr. Rosemary Martino was invited to both moderate and present in the members’ education series on the innovative research of the Swallowing Lab. Spanning clinical Speech Language Pathology care and head and neck cancer treatment, Dr. Martino’s session brought the audience of Head and Neck clinicians and researchers up to date on promising new dysphagia interventions targeting patient swallowing related issues. Dr. Martino also discussed some of the lab’s most recent work which examined the relationship between measures of objective swallowing physiology and observer-rated toxicities, function and Quality of Life (QoL). The findings show that patient reported outcomes alone are not sufficiently accurate in detecting changes in swallow physiology. The study provided clear support for the idea that accurate and comprehensive assessments also require objective clinical testing completed by a skilled clinician. The lab envisions this fresh research will further contribute to the field by facilitating better understanding of patient perception of the severity of their issues in relation to clinical evaluations.
As the single largest organization in North America for the advancement of research and education in head and neck oncology, Dr. Martino was pleased to be able to present at the AHNS’s 2016 conference, and looks forward to future opportunities to share the Swallowing Lab’s trailblazing research.
Beyond the call, student researchers buttress local communities
While the work of the Swallowing Lab is focused on making inroads in dysphagia research and clinical practice, several members of the team also make time to prioritize giving back to their local communities. In recent months, two research students working in the Swallowing Lab have been commended for their beyond the call, extra-curricular contributions to sustain and support fellow students and colleagues.
This year’s spring convocation saw 4th year PhD student Stephanie Shaw recognized for her leadership within the University of Toronto with a Gordon Cressy Award. Established in 1994 and named after the former vice-president of development and university relations, the Cressy Awards aim to identify and acknowledge students who have made outstanding extra-curricular contributions to the University of Toronto. Stephanie was recognized for her work as co-chair of the International Students’ Caucus, a body that addresses the interests and concerns of the university’s international graduate student community. Among other achievements, during her three years with the group Stephanie was able to realize a tenfold increase in international student participation. Stephanie and her fellow 2016 Cressy Award recipients are in good company, joining a community of more than 3,400 graduates who have received the prize since it’s inauguration in 1994.
Not to be outdone, in May second-year PhD candidate Elissa Greco was presented with an Evelyn Hall Education Award. Established in 1991 this award, marking the retirement of the former Chief Operating Officer of the Toronto Hospital, aims to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration among health care professionals within the University Health Network. Nominated by her colleagues at the Toronto Western Hospital, Elissa received the award for her deliberate efforts to harmonize the clinical work of the SLP team at the Western Hospital, with the research activity of the Martino Swallowing Lab.
Congratulations Stephanie and Elissa!
The Swallowing Lab of Dr. Rosemary Martino — In the heat of the race to advance dysphagia research and treatment
This year’s Annual Meeting of the Dysphagia Research Society (DRS) took place February 25th to 27th in sunny Tucson, Arizona. The DRS was established a quarter century ago to enhance and encourage interdisciplinary and innovative research pertinent to swallowing function and dysfunction. The 2016 Annual Meeting brought together a wide range of clinicians, researchers, resident physicians, fellows, and students who take care of patients with swallowing disorders.
The Swallowing Lab was well-represented at this year’s event. A team of three affiliated students and clinicians successfully presented posters on their academic research, while Dr. Martino’s pivotal work in Head and Neck Cancer swallowing disorder treatment was recognized by the society with an Oral Presentation Award.
As part of the Scientific Poster Exhibit, second-year PhD candidate Elissa Greco presented her systemic review of published literature evaluating the efficacy of exercise for head and neck cancer patients on swallow physiology, function, and quality of life. Greco’s findings revealed that future randomized control trials are sorely needed in order to accurately identify those dysphagia interventions that most benefit this patient population.
From the perspective of improving care and screening of Parkinson’s patients, Speech Language Pathology (SLP) clinician Erin Yeates has been busy working on a review of published literature to identify any existing dysphagia screening tools for adults with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Yeates has determined that there is a gap in assessment of this patient group, who may be not be aware of their swallowing difficulties. Her work establishes that more research is needed to develop a high precision screening tool, which is valid across the spectrum of PD severity.
Rounding out the poster presentations was the work of first-year PhD candidate Victoria Currie, whose research focused
on studying established clinical practice in early dysphagia identification of the acute stroke patient population. Currie’s work assessed and compared the accuracy of informal swallowing screening protocols to more formal protocol, such as the TOR-BSST© screening tool. Her work underscored the greater accuracy of the formal screening protocol and need as part of routine post-stroke patient evaluation.
Finally, Dr. Rosemary Martino was honoured to be the 2016 co-recipient of the Head and Neck Cancer award. Funded by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (HNCA), this award is open at all disciplines presenting swallowing research in patients with head and neck cancer. Dr. Martino received the award for the presentation she gave on her longitudinal study investigating changes in the swallow status of head and neck cancer patients treated with chemo-radiotherapy.
The Dysphagia Research Society recognized Dr. Martino’s presentation as fulfilling the mandate of the HNCA “… to advance prevention, detection, treatment and rehabilitation of oral, head and neck cancer through public awareness, research, advocacy and survivorship.” As a result of this significant undertaking in longitudinal research, Dr. Martino has established that there is a need to offer this patient group effective therapy protocols tailored to the specific swallow impairments involving the throat and airway resultant from their cancer treatment.