May 04, 2004
Odontis Trying To Grow Replacement Teeth In Human Gums

Specially prepared stem cells will be implanted under the gum where a tooth is missing.

Instead of false teeth, a small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing one used to be.

The procedure needs only a local anaesthetic and the new tooth should be fully formed within a few months of the cells being implanted.

Professor Paul Sharpe, Head of the Department of Craniofacial Development, King’s College London, is leading the effort to grow replacement teeth inside human gums.

He tells the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle* that by understanding the genetic control of the key processes that form teeth in the embryo, the development of a tooth could be recreated in the mouth of an adult patient.

Results obtained from mice populations show that tooth rudiments can be formed from in vitro cultures of non-dental stem cell populations and complete teeth and associated bone can be obtained when these rudiments are transferred to adults.

The goal is to take adult stem cells, treat them in cell culture, and then transfer the treated stem cells into the gum where they will grow a replacement tooth just as happens when humans grow their original adult teeth.

Stem cells, the so-called master cells, would be programmed to develop into teeth and then transplanted into the patient's jaw where the gap is.

It is thought it would then take two months for the tooth to fully develop.

A commercial company, Odontis, has been set up to develop this new approach, which has been studied by Prof Sharpe for the past two years. The next step will take the team to the point where they can form a tooth rudiment consisting of both types of basic cells from stem cells. The method could be ready to test on patients by 2007, he said.

The project has attracted funding from a number of sources.

The project is receiving a total investment of £500,000: £100,000 from NESTA, £300,000 University Translation Award from the Wellcome Trust and £100,000 from a business angel. Kinetique Biomedical Seed Fund has already invested £250,000 in the proof of concept phase.

Professor Sharpe, adds: “A key medical advantage of our technology is that a living tooth can preserve the health of the surrounding tissues much better than artificial prosthesis. Teeth are living, and they are able to respond to a person’s bite. They move, and in doing so they maintain the health of the surrounding gums and teeth.”

It is hard to judge the prospects of this effort for a couple of reeasons. First of all, the original mouse work relied on both adult stem cells and cells extracted from embryos. For humans it sounds like Sharpe's team is trying to use adult stem cells for both of the cell types they think they need. Also, since the research has taken a more commercial turn Sharpe is not revealing which adult stem cell type(s) will be used or all the manipulations that his group will do on those cells in culture before implanting them.

If Sharpe's team succeeds this may well become the effort to coax stem cells into growing replacement body parts which will pass into widespread use. I consider that to be an important turning point from a psychological standpoint because it will show the public at large that the growth of aged and lost body parts is going to become routine. This should lead to much greater government and commercial support for development of techniques to grow replacements for still more types of body parts.

Ultimately we will reach a point where it is possible to grow replacements for all body parts aside from the brain. In situ repair of the brain will become the other major obstacle to the achievement of engineered negligible senescence which is a scientific term for what will be, for all intents and purposes, eternal youthfulness.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 May 04 02:02 PM  Biotech Organ Replacement

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