August 01, 2021

Replacing and regenerating the larynx

People with throat cancer who undergo a total laryngectomy — surgery to fully remove the voice box (larynx) — find their lives drastically changed. They must breathe through a hole in the neck (tracheostoma) and cannot speak with a natural voice. They must relearn how to speak, and their sense of smell is greatly diminished. But recent advances provide hope for those facing partial or complete removal of the larynx.

Larynx

The voice box (larynx) is made of cartilage, muscle and mucous membranes.

 

Mayo Clinic will be among the first to incorporate advances in microsurgery and offer larynx transplantation. A transplant may allow those who have a total laryngectomy to smell and swallow more normally and speak more naturally. The clinic will perform a first-of-its-kind larynx transplant clinical trial, and the results will be evaluated for use in standard care. Transplant recipients will require lifelong immunosuppressants to prevent organ rejection.

When cancer affects only part of the larynx, it's possible to remove just the diseased portion while preserving the rest. Mayo Clinic specialists can use CT scans to create a 3D replica with exact dimensions of the section that was removed. The 3D framework is printed and implanted within the larynx. Then, a muscle flap from elsewhere in the body is used to cover the implant. Over time, soft tissue grows into the framework, regenerating the missing portion.

Mayo Clinic is also investigating whether the...