In a recent study researchers from the King's College London, led by Professor Paul Sharpe, have presented a new stem cell-based method for the development of artificial teeth that are very similar to the naturally occuring ones. Obviously, the study has great implications in the field of tooth replacement.
In this study, the researchers first extracted cells from adult human gingival tissue (gum) and then expanded their population in-vitro. The cells were then combined with embryonic tooth mesenchymal cells, taken from mice, with the resulting cells being able to form new teeth when transplanted into mouse renal capsules (a tough fibrous layer that surrounds the kidney).
According to the study, the bioengineered teeth contained both dentin and enamel and were very similar to normal, human teeth. The newly created teeth also had the capacity to develop roots, in contrast to the currently available tooth implants that fail to recreate the natural root structure. This is very important, as the lack of a natural root structure causes increased friction during eating (and any other action requiring jaw movement), which in turn causes a gradual loss of jaw bone around the implant's titanium rod. However, this is not a problem in natural teeth as they are connected to the bone via a soft tissue, periodontal ligament that acts as a shock absorber.
" Epithelial cells derived from adult human gum tissue are capable of responding to tooth-inducing signals from embryonic tooth mesenchyme in an appropriate way to contribute to tooth crown and root formation and give rise to relevant differentiated cell types, following in-vitro (in a living body) culture. These easily accessible epithelial cells are thus a realistic source for consideration in human biotooth formation. " said Sharpe
Sharpe's next goal is to find a method that will create human mesenchymal cells that are "tooth-inducing", avoiding thus the need to use mouse embryonic cells and ultimately creating teeth that are even more similar to the original ones.
Although the study does bring the day when we will be able to grow bioengineered teeth closer, the researchers say that there is still a long way to go before applying it in humans.