Entries in Voices (2)


Vocal Cord Gel Could Revive Damaged Voices

Pixland/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Researchers in Boston have discovered a gel that could repair vocal cord damage and help people with hoarse voices.

The artificial vocal cord material replaces a layer of the vocal structure to restore flexibility, allowing the vocal folds to vibrate more easily, which creates sound, said Dr. Steven Zeitels, director of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital.  He hopes for the biomaterial developed and tested with MIT chemical engineering professor Robert Langer to reach human trials next year.

Vocal cords can develop scarring a number of ways, including cancer and overuse from singing, but it can also come from normal wear and tear, such as shouting over a group of students every day in a classroom, Zeitels said.

"There's probably no part of the human body that sees more trauma in a lifetime," Zeitels said, adding that when he measured Steven Tyler's vocal cords during a concert in 2007, his vocal cords collided 7,800 times.

The vocal cords, or folds, are made up of three layers: a surface layer, the middle layer (gelatinous) and the deepest layer (muscle), said Dr. Milan Amin, the director of New York University's Voice Center.  When the middle gel-like layer is damaged, the top layer sticks to the bottom layer and interrupts vibration, causing hoarseness, he said.  This is called vocal scarring.

Zeitel said he hopes to inject the gel into the vocal folds' outer membrane to decrease stiffness from scarring.  It would have to be replaced, but he hopes it will be long-lasting.

The throat surgeon treated singer Adele last year when she came to him with vocal bleeding, and Major League Baseball announcer Joe Buck, when a virus paralyzed his vocal nerve last spring.  He also became Julie Andrews' doctor after a routine surgery ruined her famous singing voice in the 1990s.

But Zeitels said the gel, which he developed with Langer, won't make Andrews sing like she did in The Sound of Music just yet.  To restore vocal ranges like Andrews', he'll need an even more advanced gel, "the perfect material."

"Singers won't get this for ages," Zeitels said.  "We have to fix the cancer patients first."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Celebrity Voices Saved by Surgery

Kevin Mazur/WireImage(NEW YORK) -- Singer-songwriter Adele will take the stage at the Grammys on Sunday, giving her first performance since she had surgery in November for a vocal cord hemorrhage. Though operations have saved several famous voices in recent years, doctors say going under the knife is often a last resort when it comes to repairing vocal cords.

A vocal cord hemorrhage like Adele’s happens when tiny blood vessels feeding the vocal cords rupture and leak. Surgery can seal the blood vessels to prevent them from filling the vocal cords with blood, which make it difficult for them to vibrate.

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Recovering from the surgery is no small matter, especially for a performer who needs a booming voice to sing for millions of people. Dr. Kristine Tanner, clinical director of the University of Utah Voice Disorders Center, said Adele has likely had full use of her voice since early January. Usually after surgery for a vocal hemorrhage, patients completely rest their voices for one week, begin speaking lightly after two or three weeks and can gradually begin singing three to six weeks after surgery.

“Then you have to work back up to your previous endurance level, like going back to the gym after being out for six weeks,” Tanner said.

Vocal cord problems are an occupational hazard for many professional singers, recently plaguing the likes of John Mayer and Keith Urban, both of whom went under the knife to save their voices.

Performers who belt out songs to sold-out arenas, record tracks for new albums and use their voice for day-to-day speaking can develop polyps and nodules on their cords, keeping them from vibrating correctly when air passes over them. Doctors can detect these problems using imaging technology and scopes with cameras attached, and fix them with minimally invasive procedures, such as phonomicrosurgery.

But voice experts say surgery is often a last resort for a performer’s vocal troubles. Dr. Michael Benninger, chairman of the Head and Neck Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, has treated dozens of celebrity singers and public speakers. He said most doctors recommend other types of treatments to correct patients’ vocal troubles.

“We rarely have to do surgery on these patients,” Benninger said. “It is surprising how many high-profile performers that we see that behavioral modification is what they need.”

Formal vocal training, speech therapy, larynx massages and even changes in diet, alcohol use and other lifestyle habits can do a lot to alleviate exhausted, injured vocal cords, which can take as much of a beating as the muscles and bones of athletes. Often, these fixes are a better solution than surgery, Tanner said.

“It’s like a runner. You can operate on their ankle, but it would be preferred to change their form so they don’t continue to re-injure themselves,” Tanner said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio