How do you solve a problem like scarred vocal cords? You call in Steven Zeitels, the Eugene B. Casey Professor of Laryngeal Surgery at HMS and director of the Voice Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. Zeitels's team has developed an innovative polymer gel that mimics the mechanical properties of human vocal cords. This gel, PEG30, has been engineered to match the cords' viscoelasticity and can be injected directly into the damaged area. The gel allows the cords to vibrate normally when air is expelled from the lungs.
Zeitels, along with Robert Langer, HMS senior lecturer on surgery and the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, and Sandeep Karajanagi, an HMS instructor in surgery at Mass General, tested the synthetic gel in an animal model and found it allowed vibration without causing either local or systemic adverse reactions. This finding holds promise for professional singers like Julie Andrews, whose vocal cords were once damaged. But it is for the millions who lose their voice to diseases such as cancer that the procedure may hold its greatest benefit. It could allow them to recover their normal voices—and sing once more.