Teasing Out New Teeth

Researchers mix cells from human adult gum tissue with tooth-inducing cells from mouse embryos to grow new hybrid teeth complete with roots.

Mar 12, 2013
Dan Cossins

WIKIMEDIA, DOZENISTCells taken from adult human gums can be combined with cells from the molars of fetal mice to form teeth with viable roots, according to research published this week in the Journal of Dental Research. The method remains a long way from clinical use, but the findings represent a step toward the goal of growing bioengineered replacements for lost teeth.

Teeth develop when embryonic epithelial cells in the mouth combine with mesenchymal cells derived from the neural crest. Previous studies have shown that these cells can be combined in the lab to formal normal teeth, but the challenge was to find non-embryonic source of the cells that could be used in the clinic.

To test one such source, a team lead by King’s College London stem cell biologist Paul Sharpe extracted epithelial cells from the gums of adult humans, cultured them in the lab, and mixed them with mesenchymal tooth cells derived from embryonic mice. After a week, the researchers transplanted this mixture into the protective tissue around the kidneys of living mice, where some of the cells developed into hybrid human/mouse teeth containing dentine and enamel, and with growing roots.

The research showed that the epithelial cells from adult human gum tissue responded to tooth-inducing signals from the embryonic mouse tooth mesenchyme, making the gum cells a realistic source for clinical use, said Sharpe in a press release. He added that “the next major challenge is to identify a way to culture adult human mesenchymal cells to be tooth-inducing, as at the moment we can only make embryonic mesenchymal cells do this.”

(Hat tip to BBC News)