Wednesday, March 17, 2010

banking on hope

The Scientist | Ten years ago, scientists discovered stem cells in the dental pulp of human teeth. Despite the fact that there are still no FDA-approved therapies using these cells, companies are emerging that charge consumers up to $1,600 to extract and store them. But is there enough scientific evidence to support this type of cellular banking?

"We simply don't know how useful these cells will be for tissue engineering and regeneritve medicine," said Pamela Robey, a cell biologist at the National Institutes of Health.

Research on dental stem cells is still in its early days. One area of focus is their use in treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. Possibly due to the neural crest origin of dental pulp, "dental stem cells appear to be, based on current data, very potent to neurogenesis," said stem cell biologist George Huang of the Boston University School of Dental Medicine. Indeed, by grafting undifferentiated, untreated stem cells from the dental pulp of rhesus macaques into the hippocampus of immunosuppressed mice, Anthony Chan of Emory University and his colleagues stimulated the growth of new neural cells, many of which formed mature neurons, and initiated a variety of expression changes that promoted proliferation, cell recruitment, and maturation of progenitor cells that persisted for up to 30 days (Stem Cells 26: 2654-2663, 2008). These results suggest that dental stem cells could one day be used to stimulate neuronal growth and repair in the central nervous system.