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SOUNDS ODD  by Elizabeth Holmes
Fun Facts on the Science of Sound

6. New Hope For Damaged Vocal Cords

Our vocal cords. Most of us take it for granted that our vocal cords will work, and work perfectly, for as long as we need them.   

But consider this:   
"There's probably no part of the human body that sees more trauma in a lifetime," says Dr. Steven Zeitels, director of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital  
Those of us whose livelihood depends on a healthy voice are also at risk for injury because of the sheer number of hours on end that we speak. Cancer and overuse from singing are the most common ways that vocal cords are damaged, but all voice actors are familiar with the woes of vocal cord strain from long hours at the mic.   

To date, modern medicine has only been able to offer limited treatment for severe damage, but now there’s new hope for actually repairing and restoring vocal cords.  


Working in conjunction with MIT chemical engineering professor Robert Langer, Dr. Zeitels has developed and tested a new biomaterial - a gel - that will replace a layer of the vocal cord structure to create more flexibility, and allow the vocal folds to vibrate more easily.  

The director of New York University's Voice Center, Dr. Milan Amin, explains:
"The vocal cords, or folds, are made up of three layers: a surface layer, the middle layer (gelatinous) and the deepest layer (muscle).”   
Hoarseness results when the top layer sticks to the bottom layer, because the middle layer is damaged. Dr. Zeitels’ procedure involves replacing the lost middle layer with the new bio-gel.  
Human trials of this revolutionary new product may begin as early as next year. It’s difficult to do lab experiments on other mammals, because human vocal cords are so unique. 

Cancer patients will be the first recipients, most likely to be followed in a few years by professional singers.   

As for voice actors - looks like we’ll just have to wait our turn. In the meantime, take care of your voice!

For more on this topic, please see: New Gel Could Help Hoarse Patients Speak Again,  by Sydney Lupkin, ABC News,  Aug. 23, 2012.

Elizabeth Holmes is a writer, voice actor, and staff editor at VoiceOverXtra, based in Northern California. She is also editor of VoiceOverXtra's book division, including Voice Over Legal, by voice actor / attorney Robert Sciglimpaglia.


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Comments (3)
11/27/2012 at 9:29 PM
Wow! Is this amazing news or what! And, thank you, Elizabeth for keeping us informed. I remember a time in Arizona when I had to do play-by-play for a nighttime college basketball game; it was mid-afternoon and I was coming down with laryngitis! Went to my doc who...after looking both ways...swabbed my throat with a long Q-Tip and some red & yellow goopy stuff. Then he said, "Be a mime for an hour or two...not a sound while this stuff works on you. You might be okay by game-time." Amazingly, it warded off the problem. But the way he was acting, I assumed it was very illegal stuff!
Roxanne Coyne
11/27/2012 at 11:13 AM
This is amazing! I've been abusing my voice since Jr. High. I try to take care of it now that it's my livelihood, but I am well aware of the damage that we can do, consciously or not, when we overuse or push or ignore symptoms of strain. It's a very delicate instrument. Thanks for a great article, Elizabeth!
Reuven Miller
11/27/2012 at 4:20 AM
Wow! As I sit here with inflamed sinuses and post-nasal drip running down my throat, coughing like some character in a Dostoyevsky novel, just waiting for the Sinufed to kick in so I can do the jobs that MUST be done today ...

What an amazing development, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for bringing it to our attention. I can visualize (down the road a piece) this treatment being included in a customized health plan package for those of us who work with our voice.

One more reason to be thankful for living in a world, and at a period in time, when such is possible.
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