Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created in the laboratory a kind of tissue that is capable of making sound.
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The tissue could potentially replace human vocal chords damaged by disease or injury, an article in the journal Science Translational Medicine said.
The research is an important step toward helping people who have lost their vocal cords, EFE reports.
Dr. Nathan Welham and his team used vocal cords taken from a deceased donor and from four patients who had their larynx removed as a result of conditions other than cancer.
Researchers isolated, purified and grew the cells from the mucosa, then applied them to a 3-D collagen scaffold, similar to a system used to grow artificial skin in the laboratory, the study said.
About 20 million people in the United States suffer from voice impairments, many of them due to damage to the vocal cord mucosae, the specialized tissues that vibrate as air moves over them, creating sound.
While injections of collagen and other materials can help some in the short term, Welham said not much can be done for people who have had larger areas of their vocal cords damaged or removed.
"Voice is a pretty amazing thing, yet we don't give it much thought until something goes wrong," said Welham, an associate professor of surgery in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
"Our vocal cords are made up of special tissue that has to be flexible enough to vibrate, yet strong enough to bang together hundreds of times per second. It's an exquisite system and a hard thing to replicate," he said.
Vocal cords are the part in the sound apparatus directly responsible for producing voice. Despite their name, they are not shaped as cords or strings, but rather as a series of folds or membranous lips. ■