Human Vocal Cords Grown in Lab

Monday, November 23, 2015 - 02:19

For the first time in history, researchers at the University of Wisconsin have succeeded in growing functional vocal cords which can produce sound under laboratory conditions.

According to Iranian Students’ News Agency, this can bring hope to people who have lost their voice – due to vocal cord tissue damage – in an illness, injury, or invasive surgery.

Vocal chords are fairly simple in structure. They are shaped by two bands of soft muscle, lined with delicate folds of mucosa. As air is forced through them, the linings vibrate at frequencies of up to 1000 times a second, allowing humans to produce a wide range of sounds.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin School of Public Health have recreated these vocal cords in the laboratory. Fibroblasts and epithelial cells were mounted on a 3D collagen scaffolding to create artificial vocal cords. These two cell types assembled into structures resembling smooth muscle and the delicate lining of the cords respectively. The cells were taken from donated, non-cancerous cords from 4 patients and a dead donor.

After two weeks of growth in the lab, these vocal cords reached a length of 16 mm and a thickness of 1 mm. Then, they were implanted into a larynx taken from a large dog and warm air was blown through them using a plastic windpipe. When the humidified air was blown over the tissue it vibrated, producing sounds that were similar to those made by natural dog vocal cords in the same circumstances.

The researchers have noted that the research is in early stages and much more work is required before the bioengineered tissue can be used in the human larynx. It is promising though, and according to Dr. Ramon Franco, medical director of the Voice and Speech Laboratory at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, a speciality hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the study, “It represents hope. I have patients who are severely hoarse. There aren’t a lot of options.”

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