US researchers have grown vocal cord tissue in a lab, an advance that could one day help restore the voices of millions who suffer from cancer or other diseases, a study said Wednesday. For now, the research is in the early stages, according to the study in Science Translational Medicine. The tissue has been shown to last for three months in mice that were engineered to have a human-like immune system, and produced sound vibrations when transplanted into intact voice boxes from dog cadavers.
Lead researcher Nathan Welham, a speech-language pathologist from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said the advance is important because vocal cords are “an exquisite system and a hard thing to replicate.” The bio-engineered tissue was grown over the course of two weeks, using healthy vocal fold cells — known as fibroblasts and epithelial cells — from surgical patients, who had these cells removed for unrelated reasons, said the study. The cells were isolated, purified and applied to a three-dimensional collagen scaffold, much like the kind scientists use to grow artificial skin in the lab. When grown, the cells “assembled into layers that closely resembled the structure and protein makeup of natural vocal cord mucosa,” the study said.
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