Speaking at the UK National Stem Cell Network annual science meeting in York, Professor Martin Birchall will announce that the first clinical trials for stem cell voice transplants will begin in 2013, thanks to a million pounds provided by the Medical Research Council (MRC). This revolutionary new kind of transplant treatment could change the lives of to 1300 patients a year in the UK who suffer serious problems with breathing, speaking and swallowing.

Loss of a working larynx (voice box) not only affects speech, swallowing, breathing, but also smell, taste, coughing, lifting and kissing, affecting thousands of people in the UK. Having carried out the world's first stem cell transplant of a windpipe in 2008, Professor Birchall will be heading up a team to formally assess whether a similar approach can be used to repair problems in a voice box.

This research opens up new possibilities for patients receiving other kinds of transplants as well. One of the main problems currently facing those in need of donor organs is that they will need to take drugs for the rest of their lives as a result of the transplant. This new project, known as RegenVOX proposes that by using stem cells, this method could potentially help restore the patient's own immune system and reduce the need for immuno-suppresant drugs.

Professor Martin Birchall at UCL says:

"We have assembled a large multi-disciplinary team of scientists, surgeons, nanotechnologists and bioengineers, all leading experts in their fields to create the RegenVOX project. We're very grateful to the MRC for the support for this team to perform the necessary experimental and preparatory, including regulatory, work required to make laryngeal replacements available for patients. Without this funding, trials could quite easily have been delayed by another three to five years."

Dr Rob Buckle, Head of Regenerative Medicine at the Medical Research Council says:

"This investment by the MRC is part of our long-standing commitment to turning the potential offered by stem cells into real treatments that can change the lives of patients. Regenerative medicine is a key priority for the MRC and Professor Birchall's project could have a huge impact on how transplants are carried out in the future."

Medical Research Council
UK National Stem Cell Network (UKNSCN)

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