Science

Tooth Regeneration Mystery Solved, All Thanks to Stem Cells

By Enozia Vakil , May 15, 2013 02:58 PM EDT
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The mechanism of regeneration has been a subject of research for long enough, and with new research and breakthroughs, success is expected to arrive soon. A team of researchers led by Professor Cheng-Ming Chuong have now discovered the unique mechanism behind tooth regeneration and renewal in American alligators.

This study, titled 'Specialized Stem Cell Niche Enables Repetitive Renewal of Alligator Teeth,' published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help develop novel techniques and treatments for people who have lost teeth in adulthood, and help them gain them back.

"Humans naturally only have two sets of teeth - baby teeth and adult teeth," Chuong said. "Ultimately, we want to identify stem cells that can be used as a resource to stimulate tooth renewal in adult humans who have lost teeth. But, to do that, we must first understand how they renew in other animals and why they stop in people."

Unlike most vertebrates, which can replace their teeth any time throught their lives, humans can do it only once. Alligators in particular, have a dental structure similar to that of mammals, and are capable of lifelong tooth renewal, making them ideal for the study.

The study included close examination of microscopic images of alligator teeth. Soon enough, the researchers found out that the alligator teeth were a complex structure, with three starkly different components- a replacement tooth, a dental lamina, and a functional tooth. Further inspection of each of these layers of an alligator tooth revealed an amazing fact- the dental laminae supposedly contained stem cells, from which the new tooth arose, whenever needed.

"Stem cells divide more slowly than other cells," co-author Randall B. Widelitz, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine, said. "The cells in the alligator's dental lamina behaved like we would expect stem cells to behave. In the future, we hope to isolate those cells from the dental lamina to see whether we can use them to regenerate teeth in the lab."

This research may help initiate more studies intented to detect the molecular networks and processes involved in renewal and regeneration of tissue, which may help regenerate anything and everything; right from smaller tissues like teeth, to large organs and body parts. 

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