Scientists reconstruct voice of cancer patient

A NEW technique designed to reconstruct the voices of people who have had their vocal cords removed has been used by researchers at Sheffield University.

Students and academics have helped reconstruct the voice of patient Bernadette Chapman, who had a laryngectomy operation to remove her vocal cords after developing cancer.

Researchers took recordings of Mrs Chapman's voice prior to the operation and, in collaboration with Edinburgh University's Centre for Speech Technology Research, used a speech synthesis technique to adapt an "average voice model" to sound like the person concerned.

Once a voice is built, it is possible to synthesise any sentence by supplying the word sequence. Mrs Chapman's voice was built using around seven minutes of speech, which amounted to 100 sentences.

Hear Mrs Chapman's original voice and the synthesised version

Researchers now hope to use these personalised synthetic voices as communication aids, eventually through a handheld device.

Prof Phil Green, from Sheffield University's computer science department, said: "Your voice is part of your identity, and if this technique can help you to recover it and communicate in a natural way your quality of life could be much improved.

"The technique is still evolving and not yet ready to be installed on a handheld device but that is coming."

Mrs Chapman said: "We all take our voices for granted, but it is not until we lose them that we realise what a marvellous gift the voice is."