When we speak, sing, or yell, the sounds that we produce come from the vibration of two flexible bands of muscles that make up our vocal cords. These delicate, mucus-coated muscles vibrate at hundreds of times per second to give us our unique sounds. But about 20 million people suffer from vocal impairment, either temporary or permanent. For these millions of people, artificial lab-grown vocal cords may one day give them back their voice.
The process of growing vocal cords in a lab began with rare donations of actual vocal tissues from one deceased donor and four patients whose larynges were removed for non-cancerous reasons. From these donated tissues, the researchers grew up two types of cells on a 3-D collagen scaffold. After 2 weeks, the cells took on a structure that resembled human vocal cords in both shape and elasticity.
After attaching the lab engineered vocal cords to a sound simulation apparatus, i.e. an artificial windpipe, the team heard a buzzing sound "like a kazoo." This suggests the artificial vocal cords can function in a similar manner as the biological one, vibrating and producing sounds that could be a voice.
The research is still in its developmental stages and many more trials are needed before a vocal cord transplant can be a reality.