Doctor listening to heart and lungs of patient

Tissue-engineered implants bring new hope for vocal injuries

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A team of biomedical engineers and clinicians in the US have developed an implant that may one day help patients who suffer devastating vocal injuries from surgery on the larynx.

The collaborative team, which brings together biomedical engineers from Purdue University and clinicians from Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine, has tissue-engineered component tissue replacements that support reconstruction of the larynx, a very complex human organ composed of outer cartilage for structural support, the inner muscle that contracts to permit voicing, swallowing, and breathing, and the inner vibratory lining.

Currently, thousands of patients each year with laryngeal cancer or trauma require a procedure called total laryngectomy, in which surgeons remove the entire larynx. But it leaves patients without a human voice and breathing through a hole in their neck called a stoma.

“There are very few options for laryngeal reconstruction and no options for restoration of laryngeal appearance, structure, and function,” said Stacey Halum, a fellowship-trained laryngologist specialising in head and neck surgery at the IU Health Voice Centre.

“While surgeons occasionally use local or free tissue transfers to repair laryngeal defects, these local or regional tissues just ‘plug holes’ or close the defects without really restoring function because the transferred tissues are not dynamic – they do not move or contract. They also tend to lose bulk and scar overtime.”

Halum, along with Sherry Harbin, a professor in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, led the innovation team whereby they used a patented collagen polymer developed by Harbin’s lab to fabricate the three regenerative replacement tissues for the laryngeal reconstruction procedure.

“Our approach is unique in that we are using customised engineered tissue replacements, with the muscle component fabricated using the patient’s own muscle progenitor cells,” Harbin explained. “We believe these engineering approaches will provide patients with better options for reconstruction so that total laryngectomies become something of the past.”

Harbin and Halum also believe the technology has widespread applications for custom fabrication of engineered tissue replacements for tissue restoration in other parts of the body.

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