Other researchers have tried developing drugs that would dissolve the scar tissue, but the MIT/Harvard team decided on a different approach.
"What we did differently is we looked at this as a mechanical problem that we need to solve. We said, 'Let's not look at the scar itself as a problem, let's think of how we can improve the voice despite the presence of the scar tissue,'" says Karajanagi, who is now an instructor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and a researcher at the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The team chose polyethylene glycol (PEG) as its starting material, in part because it is already used in many FDA-approved drugs and medical devices.
By altering the structure and linkage of PEG molecules, the researchers can control the material's viscoelasticity. In this case, they wanted to make a substance with the same viscoelasticity as human vocal cords. Viscoelasticity is critical to voice production because it allows the vocal cords to vibrate when air is expelled through the lungs.
For use in vocal cords, the researchers created and screened many variations of PEG and selected one with the right viscoelasticity, which they called PEG30. In laboratory tests, they showed that the vibration that results from blowing air on a vocal-fold model of PEG30 is very similar to that seen in human vocal folds. Also, tests showed that PEG30 can restore vibration to stiff, non-vibrating vocal folds such as those seen in human patients suffering from vocal-fold scarring.
Under FDA guidelines, the gel would be classified as an injectable medical device, rather than a drug. The researchers, who have published more than a dozen papers on their voice-restoration efforts, have applied for a patent on
|Contact: Marta Buczek|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology