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Home / News / Faculty member receives prestigious biomedical research award

Faculty member receives prestigious biomedical research award

Posted on April 9, 2012

Assistant Professor Jennell C. Vick of the Department of Psychological Sciences has been selected to receive a Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award. The prestigious honor from The Hartwell Foundation will provide Vick with $300,000 over a three-year period in support of her research project “Treatment for Severe Speech Disorders in Children: Identifying Target Consonant Movements for Use with Animated 3D Visual Feedback Software.”

With funding from The Hartwell Foundation, Vick will create a treatment for severe speech disorders in children that uses state-of-the-art research technology to help the speech pathologist and child see how the child’s tongue is moving during speech.

“The tongue is very well hidden by the lips and the cheeks, so helping a patient change patterns of tongue movement can be very challenging,” she explains. “The experience for the child will be similar to current video game systems, like Nintendo Wii, where the child’s movements control the movements of a character on the screen—in this case, the child’s tongue movements will control the tongue movements of a 3-D animated character, who just happens to have a transparent head. The child and therapist will be able to see the goal movement for each speech sound being treated so that it is easy to see what adjustments the child needs to make to produce the sound correctly.”

Being able to see their own movements, especially relative to a goal movement, has been shown to be very effective in people attempting to improve a number of different skills, including golf swings. The project will bring these benefits to children who have a very difficult time being understood when they speak, even by their parents and friends.

Vick expressed gratitude for the assistance provided by several entities within the university, including the Office of Research Administration, the Technology Transfer Office, Foundation Relations, the vice president for research, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Departments of Psychological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, and Pediatrics.

”I am extremely grateful to The Hartwell Foundation for providing the opportunity to complete this project,” she says. “During the application process, I received a great deal of support from the Case Western Reserve community, and I am thrilled to be part of such a supportive institution.”

The Hartwell Foundation supports exceptional scientists and engineers pursuing biomedical research to advance children’s health. This year was the first year Case Western Reserve was invited to participate in the process. Two nominees among the university’s faculty were selected based on their early stage, transformational and cutting-edge biomedical research that has not yet qualified for significant outside funding. Both of the university’s nominees—Vick, as well as Jonathan Sears, M.D., associate professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Cell Biology—were chosen by the foundation to receive support.

As part of the competition, Vick submitted a detailed research proposal and made a formal presentation. In addition to the funding, as a Hartwell Investigator Vick will receive video-conferencing equipment to enhance communication not only with the foundation, but also among her fellow researchers. She will attend the foundation’s annual meeting in October to present her work.

Vick, who is a 1996 graduate of the university with a Master of Arts in Communication Sciences, has research interests in the areas of speech motor control, computational modeling of speech processes, and speech development and disorders. She received her doctorate from the University of Washington.