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Dental Pulp Stem Cells Show Early Promise

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Dental Pulp Stem Cells Show Early Promise

May 11, 2010

By Hillary Hoffman and Doris Dickson for Dental1

Most of us are familiar with the term “stem cell research” and the controversy surrounding it.  In recent decades, stem cell technology has offered hope to patients with debilitating and potentially deadly diseases.  Stem cells are “unspecialized” cells capable of renewing themselves through cell division.  Under certain conditions, stem cells can be prompted to become tissue- or organ-specific in order to replace or repair damaged tissues.

Research on embryonic stem cells, which are isolated from human embryos that are just a few days old, is a subject of heated public debate.  Many people feel that the research is fraught with ethical complications, leading scientists to focus on identifying alternate sources of stem cells.  

Adult stem cells have been found in a variety of organs and tissues and represent a promising alternative to embryonic stem cells.  Unfortunately, each tissue contains very few stem cells.  Furthermore, adult stem cells grow poorly in laboratory culture, which makes it difficult to obtain the large amounts of cells needed for therapeutic purposes.

One breakthrough came when Dr. Songtao Shi’s daughter Julia started losing her baby teeth.  Shi, a pediatric dentist, was able to isolate stem cells from the pulp of Julia’s teeth.  He and his colleagues found that these stem cells were less mature and able to grow faster than stem cells isolated from adult teeth.  They termed the cells SHED (stem cells from human exfoliated deciduous teeth) and published their findings in PNAS in 2003.

A Brief History of Dental Pulp Stem Cells

  •  2003 – Dr. Songtao Shi discovered dental stem cells in his daughter’s baby teeth.

  •  2007 – 1st animal studies began for bone regeneration and dental treatment

  •  2008 – 1st animal studies began for heart treatments, muscular dystrophy, type 1 diabetes, and brain tissue regeneration

  • Dental pulp stem cells belong to a classification of stem cells called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).  MSCs are multipotent, which means that they can give rise to a limited number of specific cell types.  In contrast, embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means that they can differentiate into any adult cell type.

    Nevertheless, SHED cells and other MSCs hold significant therapeutic promise.  MSCs have been shown to be able to repair damaged cardiac tissue and to generate new nerve, fat, cartilage, muscle, and bone tissue. 

    So far, MSCs have only been used in laboratory settings, but as noted by the National Dental Pulp Laboratory (NDPL), “dental pulp stem cell research is moving at a fast rate.  Future regenerative therapies and treatments for disease are presently being researched and await approval by the FDA.”  Just three months ago, a study showing the potential of SHED for Parkinson’s disease treatment was published in the journal Stem Cells and Development

    We can surely await new and exciting developments in the field in the months and years to come. Banking your child’s umbilical cord blood has become a popular way to ensure a supply of stem cells that could save your child or a close family member later in life.  Facilities such as the NDPL offer a similar service for banking dental pulp stem cells.  Based on the current outlook, it could be a valuable investment in the future.

    Discuss stem cell research in the forums

    Interested in stem cell research?

  •  Remember that stem cell research is still in its early stages

  •  Consider banking those baby teeth. Check out the NDPL for details.

  •  Note that the best time for dental pulp extraction is at the dentist's office, before the tooth has fallen out on its own


    Sources and Related Links:

    National Dental Pulp Laboratory website

    NIH stem cell primer

    SHED original press release

    Review of Dental Pulp Stem Cells and MSCs



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