Magic gel that could put Julie back on song: Pioneering treatment could restore damaged vocal cords
00:36 GMT, 21 August 2012
She was devastated when her five-octave singing voice was rendered ‘pretty non-existent’ by a botched operation 15 years ago.
But thanks to science, the stage could once again be alive with the sound of Dame Julie Andrews’ singing in all its glory.
The star is helping research into a technique that could restore vocal cords.
Hope: Dame Julie suffered vocal cord damage. Thanks to science, her vocal cords could be restored
A team including pioneering scientist Professor Robert Langer and singer Adele’s throat surgeon Dr Steven Zietels, are close to success in developing a gel that gives elasticity to damaged and scarred vocal cords.
The cords need to be pliable to vibrate thousands of times per minute, producing puffs of air that help form sounds.
The gel is based on polyethylene glycol, an ingredient used in cosmetics. It would need to be injected into the throat up to five times a year.
The first patients, including throat cancer sufferers, could be treated within a year, an American Chemical Society conference heard.
Dame Julie, 76, received a 600,000 pay-out after a routine operation to remove non-cancerous throat nodules in 1997 went badly wrong.
The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins star has described the loss of her five-octave range as a ‘devastating blow’ and told how she now only has ‘a wonderful deep bass voice of about five notes and that’s it’.
Recent singing roles have been adapted to suit her limited range and she has joined other stars in funding research into a treatment that will rejuvenate damaged vocal cords.
She is one of several stars, including Lionel Richie, who formed the Voice Health Institute to fund the research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Asked if the treatment could help restore Dame Julie’s voice, one of the team said: ‘That is the hope, it’s what I’m waiting for.’
Overuse of the vocal cords, in the case of singers or politicians, teachers and others who do a lot of public speaking, can cause scar tissue that stiffens the cords and leaves the voice hoarse and breathy.
Lionel Ritchie, who formed the Voice Health Institute with Dame Julie to fund the research at the Massachusettss Institute of Technology
With throat cancer patients and babies placed on ventilators also potential patients, the treatment could benefit millions.
The gel is strong, yet flexible, enough to vibrate at 200 times per second.
It would need to be injected into the throat between two and five times a year, with singers receiving a more flexible version to help them hit the high notes.
Professor Robert Langer, who is collaborating with Adele’s throat surgeon Dr Steven Zietels, said: ‘I don’t know that Julie Andrews would be the first patient that this would be tried on.
‘I think there are many people who would like to use it if it ever becomes available.
‘I think she feels that would just be a good thing for the world.’
Singer Adele's throat surgeon, Dr Steven Zietels, is part of the team close to success in developing a gel that gives elasticity to damaged and scarred vocal cords
Professor Langer, whose other achievements range from growing an ear on the back of a mouse to creating a spray that stops hair from growing frizzy, added that Dame Julie has made several visits to his lab.
‘She is just a wonderful person,’ he said.
Speaking about a year after his wife’s botched procedure which damaged her singing voice, her husband, Blake Edwards, said: ‘She was told she’d be OK in six weeks, that her voice would actually be better.
‘It’s over a year and if you heard it, you’d weep.’
Earlier this year, Dame Julie, 76, described her singing voice as ‘pretty non-existent’ and added that she now expresses herself through writing children’s books.