Research projects on the development of USES

Ultrasound evaluation of swallowing – the development of a hyoid tracker (2021-22)

  • Principal Investigator: Dr Joan Ma
  • Research Team: Prof Alan Wrench, Mridhula Murali, Jonathan Balch-Tomes & Gemma Cartney
  • This project was funded to support the development of data acquisition protocol and data analysis of UltraSound Evaluation of Swallowing (USES), and was completed in July 2022. Through this project, a protocol for collecting swallowing data with the 60mm convex probe was established, with the use of a contoured acoustic gel pad and a custom-made probe holder. USES data was collected from healthy participants, which were used as training data to improve the accuracy of the automatic tracking of the mandible, tongue and hyoid. The use of an automatic tracker helps to improve the reliability as well as clinical usability of USES.   

Pilot study on the clinical utility of ultrasound evaluation of swallowing (2022- current)

  • Principal Investigator: Dr Joan Ma
  • Research Team: Prof Alan Wrench & Jonathan Balch-Tomes
  • The project aims to evaluate the suitability of the USES data acquisition protocol in the clinical setting. Pilot studies will be conducted with different clinical populations to evaluate and identify adaptions required for USES in clinical settings. In addition, the automatic tracking of the mandible, tongue and hyoid will be performed on the clinical data to evaluate the accuracy of the trackers. Analyses will be performed to identify key markers for penetration, aspiration and dysphagia. Through working with existing and new clinical partnerships, we will conduct small-scale pilot studies to build the evidence base to support the clinical translation of USES.

PhD Projects

Doctoral Candidate: Gemma Cartney (2021 – current)

  • Supervision: Dr Joan Ma & Prof Jim Scobbie
  • This PhD project will evaluate the reliability, validity, and user/patient perspectives of USES in a unique clinical population: people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). An assessment protocol suitable for people with PD will be established through pilot testing. The reliability of automatic and manual USES measurements in PD will be examined. Validity will be evaluated by establishing how closely USES measurements align with corresponding VFSS measurements, and by assessing which USES measurements can discriminate between healthy normative swallowing, and safe and disordered swallowing in PD, indicating potential as clinical biomarkers. Finally, analysis of users’ perspectives will guide further patient-centred development of USES data acquisition tools and procedures.
  • This project is due to be completed in September 2024.

MSc Projects


  • Supervision: Dr Joan Ma
  • This MSc project will explore the ability of the final year speech and language therapy (SLT) students in identifying anatomical landmarks on different types of imaging used during instrumental swallowing assessments. Further, it will investigate the effect of different types of training on improving the ability to identify anatomical landmarks and generalization to ultrasound images, which is relatively new to SLT clinical management.
  • This project is due to be completed by 2024.