Posted on Jul 27, 2009, 12 p.m.
By gary clark
Six years ago, scientists discovered that baby teeth are a source for stem cells. Now a handful of private “dental pulp” labs have been established, giving parents the opportunity -- at a price -- to bank teeth in the hopes that stem cells from baby teeth might unlock a cure for disease.
In 2003, Dr. Songtao Shi of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made an amazing discovery --almost by accident. When his six-year-old daughter Julia lost a tooth, Dr. Shi had a flash of inspiration -- He thought, “I wonder if I could get stem cells from here.” The next time she lost a tooth, Dr. Shi, a pediatric dentist and stem cell researcher, was ready. He rushed the tooth to the lab, extracted the pulp, broke it apart into individual cells, and placed the cells in a Petri dish with culture medium. After incubating the dish in a hot, humid environment with ample oxygen, some of the tooth cells started to grow.
Through a series of tests, he was able to demonstrate that baby teeth cells behaved like stem cells. They multiplied rapidly, remained alive in culture for months, and they could differentiate into a variety of other types of cells, including nerve-like cells, dentin, bone and fat cells.
Since then, a handful of private dental pulp labs have sprung up, giving parents an opportunity -- for a price -- to store their children's baby teeth in order to ensure that the stem cells are available should their child develop a life-threatening illness years down the road. However, as Dr. Nancy Snyderman from The Today Show asks, “The question is, should you bank your child's baby teeth or are you being taken to the bank? Parents hope that, one day stem cells from baby teeth might unlock a cure for diseases like diabetes. The idea is not new -- for the past few years, moms and dads have been banking the blood from umbilical cords, considered a rich source of stem cells right after baby's birth. But it is costly -- not every new mom is willing to take the leap.”
Storing baby teeth is far less costly. For example, the National Dental Pulp Laboratory (NDPL) charges an initial $500 fee, then $125 per year to store the teeth. "This is a very exciting time for stem cell research," says Dr. David Matzilevich, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer of NDPL. "With so many potential stem cell treatments, there is still so much left to learn -- and the momentum in research continues to build."
As Dr. Matzilevich notes, Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs), the type that are found in dental pulp, have been shown to differentiate into a variety of other cell types including cardiac, muscle, bone, cartilage, nerve and fat tissues. “While future regenerative therapies and treatments for disease still need to be thoroughly researched and approved by the FDA, we are making incremental progress. MSCs harvested from bone marrow are currently being used in human trials; animal testing has shown significant progress in regenerating teeth with dental pulp stem cells; and human trials using these stem cells will soon be underway. Ultimately, the decision to bank one's dental pulp is a personal one, and it is our mission to ensure that it is also an informed one.”
Television Spot: Stem cells in baby teeth www.today.msnbc.msn.com