Brussels, 23 Apr 2003
Researchers in the US have discovered that baby teeth could provide an important source of stem cells that are more adaptable than adult stem cells and which overcome the ethical arguments levelled against the use of embryonic cells.
Dr Songtao Shi from the US national institute of Health in Maryland had already shown that adult wisdom teeth contain stem cells at their centres, so when his six year old daughter began losing her baby teeth, he was prompted to see if they also contained stem cells.
To do so, Dr Shi extracted the pulp from the centre of the teeth, cultured the cells for several days, and tested the sample for stem cell activity. Around 12 to 20 cells from a typical incisor tooth turned out to be stem cells, and they displayed properties different from those of ordinary adult stem cells.
'These stem cells seem to grow faster and have more potential to differentiate into other cell types than adult stem cells,' explained Dr Shi. He and his colleagues found that by cultivating the cells in various growth factors, they could become tooth-forming cells called ondontoblasts, as well as neural cells and fat cells.
The team also discovered that that the cells could actively promote the growth of bone, a property with many potential medical applications, for example in oral surgery.
As ondontoblasts the cells are able to secrete dentine, a bone-like material that could replace the less biocompatible metal posts that are currently used to anchor implants to the jaw.
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