Stem Cells to Repair Teeth?

A Harvard-led team has recently found ways to trigger the regeneration of dental stem cells to form dentin, a hard tissue that is similar to bone and that makes up teeth. Current regeneration techniques involves isolating stem cells, culturing them in the laboratory, and then returning them to the host in hopes that they will repair damaged or missing tissue. But, David Mooney’s, Ph.D., a Wyss Institute Core Faculty member at Harvard University, is different. He hopes that his laser method will make it easier for practicing clinicians.

Mooney first turned to dentist and scientist, Praveen Arany, D.D.S, Ph.D., who then conducted tissue engineering experiments on rodents. Dr. Arany drilled holes in the molars of rodents, zapped it with laser, and then analyzed the tooth 12 weeks later. High-resolution x-ray imaging and microscopy confirmed that the laser treatments triggered enhanced dentin formation.

The team then analyzed the tissue in a number of culture based experiments to determine which signaling mechanism was involved in the response to form dentin. An ubiquitous regulatory protein called transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGF-β1) was found to play a pivotal role in triggering the dental stem cells to grow into dentin. TGF-β1 itself is in a dormant state unless activated. The domino effect initiated by laser treatment is first the induction of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are chemically active molecules containing oxygen that play an important role in cellular function. ROS then activates the latent TGF-β1 complex which, in turn, differentiates the stem cells into dentin.

It will be interesting to see where this latest research in dental stem cells leads. After all, it will be much easier to regrow your own teeth than to replace them!

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