Rethinking Healthcare

Russians "grow" synthetic voiceboxes

Russians "grow" synthetic voiceboxes

Posting in Healthcare

The world's first successful laryngotracheal implants were engineered using patients' own stem cells.

When I consider debilitating injuries, I have to say I'd put it loss of voicebox pretty high on the list. Imagine not being able to tell your friend about your day, or tell your partner you loved him, or warn someone of an approaching car.

Thirty-four-year-old Julia T. and twenty-eight-year-old Aleksander Z. know that reality all too well. They both lost part of their larynx and trachea after complications from car crash injuries.

Fortunately, they both also recently became the first successful recipients of laryngotracheal implants in Krasnodar, Russia.

Doctors built nanocomposite scaffolds outlining the shape of the needed implants. They then seeded the scaffolds with stem cells from the partients' own bone marrow. Inside a shoebox-size bioreactor the scaffold was rotated as the stem cells took to it.

That stem cell seeding made it so the patients's bodies accepted the implants without having to take immunosuppressive drugs.

This Spring Swedish and Italian researchers transplanted the first bioengineered voicebox, consisting of an organ from a cadaver seeded with the patient's own stem cells. But the Russian surgeries are the first of their kind from entirely synthetic parts.

The laryngotracheal implants are the most complex synthetic body part yet to be implanted, an exciting step as researchers work to be able to replace lost organs. The researchers say their next goal is to replace a complet larynx.

Photo: Harvard Bioscience

Share this

Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure