Hope for Aging & Damaged Vocal Chords

Legendary songstress Julie Andrews, aging Boomers, and patients with throat cancer may soon share a reason to rejoice.Dame Julie famously lost her glorious five-octave warble 15 years ago during surgery that went awry but she, like people grown hoarse with age and cancer patients silenced by their disease, could benefit from a gel being developed to rejuvenate aging and diseased human vocal cords.The research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.According to a release from the society, researcher Robert Langer, Sc.D. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, “The synthetic vocal cord gel has similar properties as the material found in human vocal cords and flutters in response to air pressure changes, just like the real thing.”  

When people such as politicians and performers overuse their voices, scar tissue develops. This also happens with age. In addition, cancer or having a tube inserted in the throat for medical procedures can damage the cords.  

The release quotes Langer’s collaborator, Steven Zeitels M.D., F.A.C.S. of Harvard as saying, “About 90 percent of human voice loss is because of lost pliability.” Dame Julie is now one of Zeitels' patients. So are Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Adele. “I recognized this need in my practice over the years, after seeing many patients with voice problems," Zeitels said. "I went to Bob Langer because I knew he could help design a material that would ultimately help patients speak and sing again. Currently, no treatments exist to restore vocal cord flexibility.”

Tests in animals suggest that the material is safe, and human trials are slated to begin in mid-2013. Dame Julie and other Zeitels patients have formed a nonprofit organization called The Voice Health Institute which funds Langer and Zeitels’ research on the vocal cord biomaterial.


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