Study to Determine if Drug Therapy is Effective Against Stuttering

February 10, 1999

Treatment for people who stutter often begins and ends with speech therapy. Now physicians and researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center are resurrecting an approach to treatment tossed aside more than 20 years ago: drug therapy.

Nearly three million Americans stutter. While stuttering is more common in childhood, for nearly five percent of individuals, stuttering persists throughout their adult life. The condition is often disabling and those afflicted usually suffer from poor quality of life. Speech therapy is beneficial, but its benefits usually end when therapy ends.

The pilot research study will evaluate 25 volunteers who stutter to determine whether the drug olanzapine can help them speak more fluently. The drug, manufactured and sold under the brand name Zyprexa, is commonly used to treat psychiatric disorders. Unlike older, similar medications that showed some effectiveness in treating stuttering, olanzapine causes fewer troublesome side effects.

"If you look back at the old literature on stuttering, you’ll find many studies which indicated that certain drugs known as neuroleptics were effective in treating stuttering, but they were abandoned in the early 1970s because of the numerous side-effects," said Roger Kurlan, M.D., professor of neurology and principal investigator of the stuttering study. "Now, thanks to modern medicine, we have better drugs with fewer side-effects."

Kurlan, an expert on Tourette’s syndrome, became interested in stuttering when he noticed similarities between the two disorders. "The Tourette’s patients and the stuttering patients we were treating displayed the same symptoms, but from two different perspectives," said Kurlan. "The clinical picture for stutterers is almost identical to those with Tourette’s."

In the stuttering study, all of the participants will receive olanzapine during the 14-week study. Participants will need to make four outpatient visits to Strong Memorial Hospital for evaluation by a speech therapist and a neurologist. The study is open to adults over the age of 18. If you are interested in participating, please call the research study office at (716) 275-5130.

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