Researchers have been working feverishly for years to find clinical applications for stem cells, which have the remarkable ability morph into different cell types. Early in life, stem cells naturally divide and either remain as stem cells or are signaled to turn into specialized cells to build muscle, bone, blood, teeth, etc. Researchers have discovered that some of these cells can be artificially prompted in the lab to turn into specified tissue or organ cells.
In the beginning, lots of controversy surrounded regenerative medicine because the cells used initially in research were embryonic stem cells. Since then, other rich sources of these cells have been identified. Stem cells have been harvested from adults, and dental stem cells were discovered by scientists at the National Institutes of Health in 2000. Advances built on that discovery have been a catalyst for human clinical trials to treat gum disease and regenerate alveolar bone – the bone that holds the tooth sockets.
Experts think dental stem cells hold promise in cell-based therapies for spinal cord injury, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease and even diabetes. The real kicker is that these dental stem cells are easily available in every household with children! Why? Their baby teeth! Those little pearls on the end of strings (not my preferred method of removal) are a potent source of active stem cells!
Today, during the 84th General Session of the International Association for Dental Research, a team from The Forsyth Institute (Boston, MA, USA) will report that their research has demonstrated that mixed populations of cultured post-natal tooth bud cells can be used to generate bioengineered dental tissues.
Current research efforts focus on the identification and characterization of dental cell populations, scaffold materials, and design that can be most effectively used for tooth tissue engineering applications. Hoechst dye profiling and immuno-sorting methods were used to generate enriched clonal dental stem cell (DSC) lines. Expanded DSC and non-DSC lines are currently being examined, by both in vitro and in vivo methods, to define their potential to differentiate. Molecular and differentiation profiles will provide important characterizations of tooth bud cells, eventually to facilitate ongoing tooth tissue engineering efforts.
Progress in this research will be presented in a symposium, "Stem-cell-based Tissue Engineering of Craniofacial Structures," whose purpose is to present an overview of current, state-of-the-art craniofacial tissue engineering efforts via stem cells.