Stem Cells May One Day Correct Periodontal Defects

Stem cells are biological cells found in all multicellular organisms, that can divide (through mitosis) and differentiate into diverse specialized cell types and can self-renew to produce more stem cells. In mammals, there are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells, which are isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts, and adult stem cells, which are found in various tissues. In adult organisms, stem cells and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing adult tissues. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all the specialized cells (these are called pluripotent cells), but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues.
 
Stem cells can now be artificially grown and transformed into specialized cell types with characteristics consistent with cells of various tissues such as muscles or nerves through cell culture. Highly plastic adult stem cells are routinely used in medical therapies. Stem cells can be taken from a variety of sources, including umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. Embryonic cell lines and autologous embryonic stem cells generated through therapeutic cloning have also been proposed as promising candidates for future therapies. Research into stem cells grew out of findings by Ernest A. McCulloch and James E. Till at the University of Toronto in the 1960s.
 
Baby and wisdom teeth, along with jawbone and periodontal ligament, are non-controversial sources of stem cells that could be "banked" for future health needs, according to a National Institutes of Health researcher who spoke today at the American Dental Association's national media conference. 
 
Harvested from the pulp layer inside the teeth, jawbone and periodontal ligament, these stem cells may one day correct periodontal defects and cleft palate, and may help restore nerve cells lost in diseases such as Parkinson's, according to Pamela Gehron Robey, Ph.D., Chief, Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. 
 
The stem cells have the potential to save injured teeth and grow jawbone. Regenerating an entire tooth is on the horizon, and years from now, Dr. Robey said stem cells from teeth and jawbone might be used to correct cleft palate, one of the most common birth defects, sparing children multiple surgeries. 
 
According to Dr. Robey, the viability of stem cells derived from baby teeth is determined by when the tooth comes out. The longer a loose tooth is left in the mouth to fall out on its own, the less viable it is as a source of stem cells. 
 
As research in the field progresses, Dr. Robey hopes that stem cells from baby and wisdom teeth may one day restore nerve cells damaged by diseases such as Parkinson's Disease, one of the most common neurological disorders affecting the elderly. 
 
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