Vocal cord tissue grown in a lab for the first time

Vocal cord tissue has been grown in the lab for the first time, paving the way for potentially revolutionary treatments for people who have lost their vocal cords.

Stars such as Adele, Frank Ocean and John Mayer have been afflicted with vocal cord damage — and have undergone extensive, and expensive, treatment to deal with it. But now researchers have found a solution to outdated ways of dealing with vocal cord damage — by growing them in a lab.

Previous vocal cord treatment required patients, who had received transplanted cords from cadavers, to be injected with huge doses of immunosuppresants. But a team from the University of Wisconsin Medical School has come up with a new way of transplanting cords. They successfully grew 170 sets of vocal cords in a lab — cords that don’t require the usual round of immunosuppresants.
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The team collected cells from four live volunteers and one cadaver and grew them on small collagen scaffolds. Once they had grown into functional vocal cords — which took around two weeks — they were grafted onto the kidneys of mice to see if they would be rejected. The experiments suggest that lab-grown vocal cords could be accepted by humans — without the previously required drugs.

Engineered Vocal Fold TissueUWMedicine

The team also attached voice tissues to removed larynxes in dogs, placed them in a plastic tube to mimic a windpipe and blew air through them — and the tones produced were similar to natural voice boxes in humans.

“We never imagined that we would see the impressive level of function that we did,” said study senior author Nathan Welham in a statement.