Unexpected stem cell factories found inside teeth

Aug 5, 2014

By Sarah C. P. Williams

Development is typically thought to be a one-way street. Stem cells produce cells that mature into specific types, such as the neurons and glia that compose nervous systems, but the reverse isn’t supposed to happen. Yet researchers have now discovered nervous system cells transforming back into stem cells in a very surprising place: inside teeth. This unexpected source of stem cells potentially offers scientists a new starting point from which to grow human tissues for therapeutic or research purposes without using embryos.

“More than just applications within dentistry, this finding can have very broad implications,” says developmental biologist Igor Adameyko of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who led the new work. “These stem cells could be used for regenerating cartilage and bone as well.”

Researchers knew that the soft “tooth pulp” in the center of teeth contained a small population of mesenchymal stem cells, the type of stem cell that can mature into teeth, bones, and cartilage. But no one had conclusively determined where these stem cells came from. Adameyko figured that if he could trace their development, he might be able to recreate the process in the lab, thereby offering a new way of growing stem cells for tissue regeneration.

2 comments on “Unexpected stem cell factories found inside teeth

  • Exactly nil applications for the dental industry, but plenty of potential implications.

    And possibly not all that unexpected.

    We’ve become accustomed to dental caries inevitably getting worse if not for our willingness to assist dentists to afford private aircraft collections. Plus water utilities doping the public water supply.

    But I’ve heard that the archaeological evidence is that dental caries in pre-neolithic wild humans and modern hunter gathers is relatively rare unless the affected tooth has previously been physically damaged. And now that there’s large populations of long-term low carb and paleo diet fanatics there’s anecdotal reports that dental caries are reversing in many of these people. But the identification of the link with stem cells in tooth pulp is a possible contribution to explaining the mechanism of how this might be possible.

    I don’t know if there’s any substantial research on this self-healing of caries. I suspect that those involved in the dental industry won’t rushing to invest r&d resources here. Possibly more of a legal issue: perhaps the dental industry might be able to acquire a patent on some legal technicality aspect associated with tooth pulp stem cells. So that anyone without dental caries will be compelled to pay dentists anyway.

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