Thanks to a device developed by a team of UK scientists, people who have had their larynx removed following cancer, disease or injury may be able to speak again.
Currently, people who have lost their larynx are fitted with a valve in their throat to divert air from the lungs to the oesophagus when they exhale. But these valves become clogged shortly after use and need to be replaced after a few months.
Now, scientists have invented a device that can detect and interpret facial movements when someone mouths a word.
"We can pick up information about the way they are moving their lips, teeth and tongue around, and from that information reconstruct their speech," New Scientist quoted team member Phil Green at the University of Sheffield as saying.
The device uses small magnets placed inside the mouth and on the tongue to create a magnetic field. Sensors in an external headset detect changes in the magnetic field as the person mouths the words.
So far, the system can recognize only about 50 words.
The team plans to develop magnets that can be implanted into the tongue, according to team leader James Gilbert at the University of Hull.
They are also aiming to reduce the size of the headset down to something like a Bluetooth device.