New polymer gel may restore vocal cords
Jul 15, 2011 - 1:15:02 PM

A polymer gel, developed by scientists, could be implanted into scarred vocal cords to restore their normal functioning.

The gel, which mimics key traits of human vocal cords, could help millions of people with voice disorders. How it was developed is an interesting story.

In 1997, actress and singer Julie Andrews of 'The Sound of Music' fame lost her voice following a surgery to remove non-cancerous lesions from her vocal cords.

She approached Steven Zeitels, professor of laryngeal surgery at Harvard Medical School, for help. Zeitels was developing a new type of material that could be implanted into scarred vocal cords to restore their normal function.

In 2002, he enlisted the help of MIT's Robert Langer, professor in chemical engineering, an expert in developing polymers for biomedical applications, the journal Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology reports.

The team led by Langer and Zeitels has now developed a polymer gel with the help of former Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Sandeep Karajanagi. They hope to start testing in a small clinical trial next year, according to a Harvard statement.

About six percent of the US population has some kind of voice disorder, and the majority of those cases involve scarring of the vocal cords, says Karajanagi.

Many of those are children whose cords are scarred from intubation - during surgery, while others are victims of laryngeal cancer.

Other people who could benefit are those with voices strained from overuse, such as teachers. 'This would be so valuable to society, because every time a person loses their voice, say, a teacher, all of their contributions get lost to society,' Zeitels says.

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