Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Lab

The Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Laboratory (SRRL) is directed by Catriona Steele and has funding from several agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There are several main foci of research in the lab:

Tongue Function

The swallowing lab conducts basic studies of swallowing function, focusing particularly on the role of the tongue in swallowing.

These began with studies of tongue movement in swallowing, measured using an electromagnetic movement tracking system. This led to questions regarding the functional consequences of tongue movement in swallowing, and studies of the pressure patterns that arise during swallowing.

More recently, Professor Steele’s work on tongue pressure has led to questions regarding the role that tongue pressure capacity might play in an individual’s sensory ability to measure the flow properties of liquids in the mouth, and detect small differences in viscosity.

Treatment Studies

Since receiving her Ph.D. in 2003, Professor Steele has been conducting a steady stream of studies investigating treatment outcomes for dysphagia. These studies have focused on treatment methods employing exercise and biofeedback, either from surface EMG or tongue pressue.

Surface EMG: Professor Steele has worked with the Biofeedback Foundation of Europe to develop software for clinicians who wish to use surface EMG for biofeedback during swallowing therapy.

Tongue Pressure: Professor Steele’s work on tongue pressure continues to support the need for refinements to tongue pressure training methods. Results from a multi-site randomized trial funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario were disseminated in the following publication: Steele, C. M., et al. (2016). A randomized trial comparing two tongue-pressure resistance training protocols for post-stroke dysphagia (link: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00455-016-9699-5 PMID: 26936446).

Viscosity & Texture Modification

Professor Steele has a long-standing interest in the use of texture modified foods and thickened liquids to address swallowing impairment.  Her work in this area focuses on characterizing the viscosity of liquids used in dysphagia assessment and management, including barium stimuli, and liquids thickened with both starch-based and xanthan-gum-based thickening agents. Professor Steele collaborates with Professor Ben Hanson (University College London) in making measurements of liquid flow characteristics.

Additionally, Professor Steele is a founding member of the Board of Directors of the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative.  This international task force is committed to developing definitions for terminology used to describe texture modified foods and liquids, and guidelines to facilitate the preparation of quality products for patients with dysphagia.  Professor Steele led a large systematic review project for IDDSI, to synthesize evidence from the literature regarding the effects of viscosity and other textural characteristics on human swallowing.

Nutrition & Oral Hygiene

Professor Steele’s lab has also been involved in collaborative research related to malnutrition in people in long-term care settings. This work, which was known as M3 (Making the Most of Mealtimes) was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and involves a large collaborating team lead by Dr. Heather Keller (University of Waterloo).