Vocal Cord Grown .. And It Can Talk!
Have you Ever Spoken Without Thinking?
When you next say, “I spoke without thinking” consider that this has a dual meaning as speaking is, more often than not, something we do without giving any thought as to how our body allows us to make the desired sounds in order to talk and communicate.
From first words to dying wishes, a good proportion of people will possibly never question the remarkable mechanics of speech. That is, until something goes wrong.
Understanding how our voices work helps when maintaining voice health, essential for effective communication and a pain-free life.
Three Harmonic Voice Components
The larynx, or voice box, contains two vocal cords, also known as vocal folds, that the exhalation passes through causing a vibration. With up to 1,000 vibrations per second, these folds work fast! How fast depends on the pitch of the sound we make, which is determined by muscles in the larynx.
You can see in our functional replica of the human larynx, hyoid bone and epiglottis, seen on the right, that the right half of the larynx model shows cartilaginous structures, the left half the musculature. Vocal cords, arytenoid cartilage and epiglottis are movable from the functional larynx allowing thorough study of these essential parts of the human voice.
Without the third element though, the resonator, which is made up of our throat, nose, mouth and sinuses, the sound from the vocal cords is just buzzing. It is the shape of this resonator tract that presents our unique human sound that allows us to speak, or sing, effortlessly and harmoniously.
A Vocal Cord Can Groan…And Be Grown Too!
In recent months, scientists in the US have, for the first time ever, created vocal cord tissue in a lab. Starting with human tissue and cells, the scientists produced vocal cords that make realistic sounds and operate largely like the real thing.
These lab-grown cells were tested in voice boxes taken from dogs and the results presented sounds with similar characteristics to that of a dog.
It is a significant breakthrough that could in the future, help patients who have damaged their vocal cords, often as a result of repeated surgeries, radiation, removal of tumors and other growths or having been caused by alternative significant damage.
One of the dangers of performing a tracheostomy is that it can pose a risk to injuring the nerve that moves the vocal cord. Tracheostomies are often performed for cancer patients or for infections, laryngeal injury, and severe neck and mouth injuries.
20 Million Sufferers in the United States Alone
In the United States approximately 20 million people suffer permanent or temporary voice impairment, which affects their daily lives and for which currently there are few treatments. Collagen is sometimes injected to the vocal cords to increase their size, but it isn’t a complete solution as the cords still lose part of their ability to vibrate.
“It’s an exciting finding because those patients are the ones we have very few treatment options for.” Jennifer Long, a voice doctor at the University of California, who commented on the study.
It will be several years before this research could be offered to patients though. Further testing on animals and in the lab will be essential before implant cells could be trialed in humans.
Value Your Vocal Cords
Severe voice problems can seriously & negatively impact a person’s life. Like every other organ in the body, there are things that can help to maintain voice-health on a daily basis:
- Protect your voice against overuse
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, caffeine and spicy food
- Consider voice training on how to use the voice properly
- Avoid certain medications that dry the throat
- Diagnose & treat gastroesophageal reflux
Whilst we don’t always give value to the process of speech, taking care of our vocal cords will protect them against disease and infection and avoid problems arising in the future.