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Soo-Eun ChangSoo-Eun Chang

The New Neuroscience of Stuttering

The Wire Science 9/3/20

Gerald Maguire has stuttered since childhood, but you might not guess it from talking to him. For the past 25 years, Maguire – a psychiatrist at the University of California, Riverside – has been treating his disorder with antipsychotic medications not officially approved for the condition. Only with careful attention might you discern his occasional stumble on multisyllabic words like “statistically” and “pharmaceutical.”

Maguire has plenty of company: More than 70 million people worldwide, including about 3 million Americans, stutter — that is, they have difficulty with the starting and timing of speech, resulting in halting and repetition. That number includes approximately 5 percent of children, many of whom outgrow the condition, and 1 percent of adults. Their numbers include presidential candidate Joe Biden, deep-voiced actor James Earl Jones and actress Emily Blunt. Though those people and many others, including Maguire, have achieved career success, stuttering can contribute to social anxiety and draw ridicule or discrimination by others.

Maguire has been treating people who stutter, and researching potential treatments, for decades. He receives daily emails from people who want to try medications, join his trials, or even donate their brains to his university when they die. He’s now embarking on a clinical trial of a new medication, called ecopipam, that streamlined speech and improved quality of life in a small pilot study in 2019.

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