Vocal Cords Bioengineered from Starter Cells
“Voice is generated by a complex and beautiful biological system, and this is a system that allows all of us to communicate messages, concepts, and emotions.”
Nathan Welham, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. But a person can lose his or her voice because of severe damage to the vocal cords, also called the vocal fold mucosa.
“In these situations, where the vocal fold mucosa is severely damaged or missing and with present technology unfixable, the best option may be to simply replace it.”
Welham spoke at a telephone press conference on November 17th in conjunction with the announcement that he and colleagues had succeeded in generating bioengineered vocal fold mucosa that were capable of producing sound—a first step toward implants one day. Their study is in the journal Science.
The research team started with vocal cord tissue from a cadaver and from four patients who had their voice boxes removed. They took cells from those tissue samples and successfully grew them on a three-dimensional scaffold to produce new vocal cords.
So how do the lab-grown vocal cords actually sound?
“We did some functional testing where a larynx is mounted on a lab bench, put on a fake windpipe, and hot warm humidified air just like in the body is blown through and sets the vocal folds into vibration, but they vibrate and generate sound just into the atmosphere.
And so the sound is quite different than what is coming out of my mouth at present…without the vocal track, sounds a little bit like a kazoo, kind of robotic sounding like Eeeeee…but that's how it should sound in this context.”
Should bioengineered vocal cords someday be implanted into a human patient, the sound would be far different, due to the other structures present. More natural. More like what you’ve just been listening to.