OHNS Researchers Receive $2.7 Million to Study Stem Cells in the Vocal Folds

Susan Thibeault, PhD, CCC-SLP
Vlasta Lungova, PhD

Vlasta Lungova, PhD, scientist III in the Division of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and Susan Thibeault, PhD, professor and Diane M. Bless Endowed Chair in Otolaryngology, were awarded a five-year, $2.7 million research grant this past summer from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Their study will focus on vocal fold epithelial stem cells and their role in maintaining the structure and function of the vocal fold epithelium. “Proper function of vocal fold epithelial cells is important for voice production,” explained Lungova. “Losing too many of these cells can affect normal vocal fold function and delay wound healing after an injury, while over-production of these cells can cause the size of the vocal folds to increase, altering voice quality and potentially causing a non-cancerous mass to develop.”

The team will focus their research on a particular stem cell marker, the Lrig1 gene. In addition, they will artificially grow vocal fold tissue and develop a novel system that can be used in the laboratory to mimic epithelial growth. “We’re going to make this system available to future researchers who are studying the vocal fold epithelium under both healthy and disease conditions,” Lungova added. Ultimately, a better understanding of how vocal fold epithelial cells function and respond to damage could lead to potential targets for treatment. These treatments could help improve patient quality of life and reduce the substantial economic costs associated with treating voice disorders.

Congratulations on your research award, Drs. Lungova and Thibeault!