Xinqiao Jia, UD assistant professor of materials science and engineering, is leading the project.
According to Jia
, the vocal cords are more accurately defined as "vocal folds."
"The reduction of vocal-fold scarring remains a significant therapeutic challenge," Jia
colleagues want to explore two parallel tissue-engineering approaches to regenerate the lamina propria.One method focuses on injecting gelatin-like materials, composed of soft, strong and long-lasting hydrogels, into damaged tissue to improve its pliability and prevent scar formation.
In the second approach, the scientists want to form functional tissue from a combination of vocal fold connective tissue cells (fibroblasts), artificial extracellular matrix, and biological cues and mechanical stimuli that capture the mechanical and biological characteristics of the natural organs.
"In order to grow a functional tissue in vitro, you need to provide the cells with a biological and physical environment that is as close to that of the natural tissue as possible," Jia
To mimic the complex and rigorous movement experienced by vocal fold tissue, the researchers have constructed a bioreactor capable of delivering well-defined vibrational and tensile stresses.
The device, which Jia
designed, simulates the demanding, high-frequency environment in which vocal fold cells live, vibrating back and forth at up to 100 hertz (100 times a second).Not only do the vocal folds collide as they open and close, driven by air from the lungs, they also must be able to elongate as the pitch of the voice changes, a movement that occurs at a much slower frequency of 1-2 hertz (1-2 times a second), according to Jia
"The combination of vocal fold fibroblasts, elastic and bioactive artificial extracellular matrices, and a dynamic bioreactor offers an exciting opportunity for in vitro tissue engineering of vocal fold lamina propria," Jia
Earlier this year, Jia
received the National Science Foundation's
Faculty Early Career Development Award.The highly competitive award is bestowed on those scientists deemed most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.Jia received her bachelor's degree in applied chemistry and master's degree in polymer chemistry and physics from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and a doctoral degree in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.