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Technique may yield vocal cord stand-in

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1:36pm, February 25, 2003
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From Denver, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

A plastic material used in some biological implants could someday form a foundation for tissue that can repair or replace human vocal cords, new experiments suggest.

Developing a surrogate for the body's soft tissues can be difficult because the components often have a complex cellular structure, says Patrick A. Tresco, a bioengineer at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Vocal cords are particularly challenging because any implant would need to be especially sturdy. Although human vocal cords are only about 1 centimeter long, they undergo 1-millimeter vibrations and experience accelerations about 200 times that of Earth's gravity.

Tresco and his colleagues have induced certain human cells to grow upon and fill the pores within an elastic foam that's about 70 percent open space. When the foam was stretched once every 4 seconds, 8 hours per day for 9 days, the living cells became structurally aligned like those deep within vocal cord tissue. When the foam was also vibrated at high frequency while it was being stretched, the cells took on a more disordered pattern, like that in the tissue just beneath a vocal cord's skin.

Tests of the tissue-foam combination showed that under stress and strain, the material behaved just like vocal cord tissue does when it's similarly exercised.

Also, because patients could donate their own cells to create a vocal cord implant, the tissue would probably not be rejected.

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