Cloning Teeth: Medicine's next big thing?

May 23, 2012 9:47:36 AM PDT
Tooth loss, although often associated with a diet high in sugar, has been a problem for as long as mankind has existed. Before the widespread use of refined sugar in food, tooth loss was often a result of disease and malnutrition, although dietary practices also contributed to the problem.

Several studies have documented the negative aspects of not having teeth or dentures -- including impaired nutritional intake, lower self-confidence and self-esteem and reduced quality of life. The three most common tooth replacement options are dental implants, fixed bridges and removable appliances. (Source:

STEM CELLS: Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. (Source: The National Institutes of Health resource for stem cell research)

CLONING TEETH: Nova Southeastern University's dental researchers at the College of Dental Medicine are growing and harvesting human dental stem cells in the lab. The cells normally grow in flat layers of single cells in Petri dishes. To get them to form a 3-D tissue structure, researchers seed the cells on tissue engineering scaffolds made from the same polymer material as bio-resorbable surgical sutures. The scaffolds function like those you see around buildings under construction. They provide mechanical support and control the size and shape of a tissue. Once the stem cells are seeded on the scaffolds, researchers add growth factors to signal to the stem cells what type of tissue to grow. The combination of dental stem cells, tissue engineering scaffolds and growth factors allows researchers to engineer new tooth tissues. NSU scientists are working, similar tooth research labs, to create fully functional replacement teeth.

Dental researchers have been successful at regenerating teeth in the laboratory and in animals. They have developed a stem cell therapy for growing new teeth following root canal treatment, and also for replanting teeth that have been knocked out of the mouth. In NSU's technique for regenerating teeth, the pre-clinical trial subjects were able to eat and chew normally. No current studies have examined the ability of animals to eat using completely regenerated teeth because no one has yet regenerated all the teeth in an animal. In NSU's technique, the soft tissue, or pulp, inside teeth was removed and regenerated. The monkey subjects were able to use their teeth normally to eat and chew.

NSU is in the process of patenting a "regeneration kit" that will allow dentists to deliver stem cell therapies to replace dead tissue inside a tooth. In addition, several companies are collecting baby teeth to harvest stem cells through dental offices. The stem cells are being stored for future regenerative therapies, including growing new teeth or growing other replacement organs. (Source: NSU, Sun Sentinel)


Peter Murray Ph.D.
Nova Southeastern University
(954) 262-7366

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