A vibrating gel injected into the vocal tissues of the throat could restore vocal capacity to people whose voices have been damaged by surgery.
The new gel (pictured), developed by Harvard Medical School surgeon Steven Zeitels in partnership with MIT bioscientist Bob Langer, can vibrate up to 200 times per second, mimicking the action of human vocal cords.
Their research has been partly funded by singers Roger Daltrey (of The Who) and Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith), both of whom have suffered loss of singling ability following surgery, thought its main funding source is the Institute of Laryngology and Voice Restoration.
It has recently been reported that Dr Zeitels is helping to treat singer Adele, who has had to cancel her 2011 tour to undergo surgery to alleviate issues with her throat.
Injected directly into the vocal cords, the gel responds to breath and muscle tension by vibrating.
Zeitels is a professor of laryngeal surgery whose patients include singer Julie Andrews as well as Daltrey and Tyler. He was directed to Langer by a number of scientific experts.
Langer is famous for his work on anti-cancer drugs that starve tumours of their blood supply, including Roche’s Avastin, and on time-release drug delivery technologies for chemotherapy.
Creating artificial vocal cords requires a durable material that can bond with the existing tissue and respond correctly to muscle contractions and air movement. Langer has developed a polyethylene glycol gel tailored at the molecular level.
“With synthetic materials, the beauty is you can tailor them and build in the degradation rate or mechanical strength you need because you’re making them from scratch,” Langer commented.
Zeitels and Langer plan to test the gel in a cancer patient for the first time in 2012.