HEALTHY LIVING
08/09/2011 12:36 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2011

Cure For A Lost Voice? Scientists Develop Gel That Restores Vocal Cord Vibrations

We've got bionic glasses that can help those with impaired vision to see, and a hearing aid that transmits sound via the teeth to help the deaf to hear.

And soon, we may have a synthetic gel that can help those who've lost their voice to speak again.

Harvard and MIT researchers have worked together to develop a special gel that is injected into scarred and damaged vocal cords to restore their function by allowing the cords to vibrate again.

The lead researcher, Steven Zeitels, a professor of laryngeal surgery at Harvard Medical School, was inspired by actress and singer Julie Andrews to continue on with this research on injectable vocal cord treatments, the Daily Mail reported. Andrews lost her singing voice 13 years ago after she underwent throat surgery to remove noncancerous growths on her vocal cords.

About 6 percent of the U.S. population has some sort of voice disorder, including vocal scarring. It can result from inflammation of the vocal cords, or from lesions there that grow into deeper tissue, according to the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. And in Andrews' case, it can occur after surgery.

In the past, scientists have tried to remedy the problem by applying materials to the vocal cords to soften or dissolve the damaged tissue. But those don't work for everyone, and the effects may not last.

“What we did differently is we looked at this as a mechanical problem that we need to solve. We said, ‘Let’s not look at the scar itself as a problem, let’s think of how we can improve the voice despite the presence of the scar tissue,’” study researcher Sandeep Karajanagi, formerly from MIT and now a surgery instructor at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

Researchers found that the gel, called PEG30, is able to mimic the elasticity of vocal cords and restores vibration to the cords that have been damaged by scarring, Popular Science reported.

And, a study published this year in the journal Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, showed that the gel doesn't do any damage to the vocal cords of dogs, meaning it "has a real good chance of working in people without creating damage," Karajanagi said in a statement.

Now, they are readying the gel for clinical trials in humans; the gel would have to be injected every six months because it breaks down after some time.