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Internationally renowned voice surgeon and team open MGH Voice Center
Advanced voice care sought by stars available to all

BOSTON - May 5, 2005 - Communicating through voice is something often taken for granted - until, that is, a person's vocal ability is threatened, diminished or even eliminated. And for those whose livelihood depends on the voice, any disorder that limits the ability to speak, teach, sing, preach, act, debate or lecture can be truly devastating. Chronic hoarseness should be taken seriously, even by those who do not necessarily depend on their voice to make a living. This common complaint, in fact, can be a symptom of a serious underlying disorder or disease.

The new MGH Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation - the MGH Voice Center - under the direction of Steven Zeitels, MD, FACS, was recently established within the MGH Department of Surgery to integrate a range of clinical services for patients with voice disorders with research focused on new and improved ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing vocal problems. Robert Hillman, PhD, a speech pathologist and voice scientist funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1984, serves as co-director and research director of the center. The center also involves a multidisciplinary team of surgeons, speech-language pathologists and scientists who have worked together for more than a dozen years before relocating to the MGH.

Zeitels has spent his career focused on understanding the intricacies of the voice and deciphering the many ways it can go awry. He has earned an international reputation for his specialized and highly tailored approach to diagnosing, treating and managing voice disorders, from common hoarseness associated with overuse to extraordinarily rare types of laryngeal cancers. Although his skills have led many well-known entertainers including Julie Andrews, Steven Tyler, Cher, Denyce Graves and Frederica Von Stade - to seek his care and advice, Zeitels makes it clear that "the MGH Voice Center has been specifically designed so that my team and I can provide the kinds of advanced care sought by high-profile performers to anyone who is experiencing voice problems."

According to Zeitels, voice disorders can be attributed to a multitude of factors -including overuse, chronic disease, lesions, infection or damage to vocal cords from such things as trauma or intubation during surgery. "Our goal is to figure out exactly what the underlying problem is, design the right treatment for that disorder and then help our patients overcome their vocal dysfunction," says Zeitels, who is the Eugene Casey Chair of Laryngeal Surgery at Harvard Medical School. "Following treatment, we continue to work with patients in vocal rehabilitation, training them in techniques aimed at preserving, strengthening and respecting their vocal muscles and their voice."

One of the most significant advances for voice disorders in recent years, says Zeitels, is his team's pioneering use of the pulsed-dye laser (PDL) to treat laryngeal lesions and diseases. Developed originally for skin conditions, the PDL has been effective in specifically targeting lesions on the vocal cords while preserving adjacent healthy vocal tissue. Zeitels - who along with Rox Anderson, MD, director of the MGH's Wellman Center of Photomedicine, developed PDL protocols for laryngeal lesions - recently began using this type of laser to treat vocal cord cancers. And the early results appear to be quite promising. The PDL works by using non-ionizing radiation to block blood supply to the cancer, shrinking the tumor and reducing or preventing the need for traditional surgery that involves cauterizing, excising, scarring and damaging delicate vocal membranes.

"The PDL is having an enormously dramatic effect on patients' lives," says Zeitels. "This tissue-sparing technology has enabled us to offer a treatment that is more comfortable and better tolerated by our patients. And we're very excited about the results we're seeing using the PDL to treat cancer in its preliminary early stages."

Other research at the center that is also aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of voice disorders includes work in collaboration with Robert Langer, PhD, of MIT on a bio-implant to restore function to damaged vocal cords; development of the first voice neural prosthesis for laryngectomy patients (those who have had their larynx removed because of advanced cancer); and development of a wearable voice monitor and biofeedback voice treatment system, analogous to the Holter heart monitor.

The new MGH Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation - located at 1 Bowdoin Square in Boston, three blocks up Cambridge Street from the MGH - is a state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment laboratory designed to initiate, facilitate and enhance clinical advancements. The spacious and welcoming center is outfitted with the most current instrumentation, equipment and technology used in the outpatient management of vocal cord problems. A clinical laboratory allows for the acoustic and aerodynamic assessment of vocal function. A specially outfitted voice studio features a baby grand piano and recording/playback equipment for rehabilitation of professional voice users, most notably singers.

According to MGH surgeon-in-chief Andrew L. Warshaw, MD, the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation represents a vital expansion of the MGH's thoracic surgery capabilities. "This wonderful new facility supports and builds upon the longstanding collaboration between laryngologists and thoracic surgeons," Warshaw says. "The talent and expertise that Dr. Zeitels and his team have brought to the MGH provide wonderful synergy with many other programs at the hospital, enriching and extending the spectrum of services we can provide to patients."

Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $450 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, cutaneous biology, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, transplantation biology and photomedicine. In 1994, MGH and Brigham and Women's Hospital joined to form Partners HealthCare System, an integrated health care delivery system comprising the two academic medical centers, specialty and community hospitals, a network of physician groups, and nonacute and home health services.

Media Contact: Emily Parker, MGH Public Affairs

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