Morgan Technical Ceramics (MTC) is working with Hull University spin-out Avoco Medical on a speech-restoration project for patients with throat cancer.
The company is marketing a new speech valve that uses zirconia ceramic components that are said to extend valve life, resulting in less frequent valve changes for patients.
Up to 15 per cent of patients diagnosed with throat cancer every year require a procedure called a laryngectomy — removal of the larynx — which results in speech loss.
Some speech and vocal function can be restored through the use of valves that reconnect the trachea and the oesophagus.
Current valve designs consist of a stent and incorporate a flap that opens as air is forced through.
The valve is usually made from silicone rubber, but as the material is exposed to a hostile and non-sterile environment, a biofilm develops on the surface.
Consequently, the performance of the valve deteriorates so that it has to be replaced every three months on average.
Ceramic is a more attractive material as it has a hard, impervious surface that makes it more resistant to the hostile environment, and laboratory tests are said to have shown that ceramic valves should last more than two years.
According to MTC, the patent-protected speech valve design will be supplied with a specially designed multifunction insertion tool.