Imagine that, instead of replacing lost teeth with bridges and implants, your dentist would be able to make a new tooth grow out of your jaw! It sounds like science fiction, but the vision might not be out of reach.
A group of Japanese scientists have recently succeeded in making the first fully functional, bio-engineered organ ever – and it’s a tooth! The key to making these ‘real’ teeth is the use of stem cells. Stem cells are special because they have the potential to develop into different tissue and organs.
It has long been the dream of scientists to make stem cells grow into organs that can be transplanted into patients in need. Previously, researchers have succeeded in making different tissues out of just one kind of stem cell. In order to make fully functioning, three dimensional organs, more than one kind of stem cell would need to be combined.
In making the bio-engineered tooth, scientists figured out how to combine two different kinds of stem cells – stem cells developing into inner and outer surfaces and stem cells developing into blood vessels and other soft tissues. The two kinds of stem cells combined into a tooth germ which was then transplanted into the jaw of mice in place of recently extracted teeth.
Already after a couple of weeks, the new tooth erupted through the gum and after 49 days, it was fully erupted. The tooth was tested as to hardness and function and was found to be fully functional and up to the standard of natural teeth.
What this new discovery will mean for the dental profession and for regenerative therapy in general is still unclear and many questions need to be answered before the technology can be used on humans. So it might still be long before you can order your own bio-engineered tooth at the dentist.