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Advancing Dentistry: Stem Cells Pave the Way for ‘Living Fillings’

  • August 23, 2023
  • 3 min read
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Advancing Dentistry: Stem Cells Pave the Way for ‘Living Fillings’

In a promising breakthrough, stem cells hold the potential to revolutionize dental restoration. A recent study suggests that stem cells might offer a solution to repair damaged teeth through the creation of innovative “living fillings.”

Stem Cells: Architects of Dental Repair

Researchers at the University of Washington School of Dentistry embarked on a journey to harness the potential of stem cells in restoring teeth. Their experiment involved inducing stem cells to form miniature multicellular structures that could secrete the proteins required for tooth enamel formation. This groundbreaking endeavor was reported in the journal Developmental Cell on August 14.

The Significance of Tooth Enamel

Tooth enamel, known as the hardest human tissue, serves as a natural shield against the stresses of chewing and decay. The loss or damage of enamel presents a challenge as the body lacks a mechanism to regenerate it.

The Mission: Ameloblast Creation

The study’s mission was to engineer ameloblasts, the specialized cells responsible for enamel production. Researchers utilized RNA sequencing to decipher the intricate process by which fetal stem cells evolve into ameloblasts. This involved tracking the development stages and associated active genes.

Blueprint for Progress: Computer Analysis

Computer analysis was pivotal in predicting the genetic blueprint required for stem cells to transform into ameloblasts. Hannele Ruohola-Baker, project leader and professor of biochemistry, likened this process to a roadmap guiding the creation of ameloblasts.

From Concept to Reality: Cultivating Ameloblasts

Putting the roadmap into action, researchers successfully coaxed undifferentiated human stem cells into becoming ameloblasts. Chemical cues activated specific genes in the stem cells, mirroring natural development. Additionally, a newfound tooth cell type called subodontoblast was identified, potentially vital for tooth formation.

Organoid Marvels: Miniature Living Structures

The transformed cells assembled into three-dimensional mini-organs known as organoids. These organoids mimicked natural tooth development, secreting three crucial enamel proteins: ameloblastin, amelogenin, and enamelin. The proteins eventually mineralized, a pivotal step for robust enamel formation.

Towards the Future: Enamel with Endurance

Refining the process is the next goal, with the aim of creating enamel akin to that found in natural teeth in terms of durability. The dream is to restore damaged teeth using lab-generated enamel. The potential applications are extensive, from filling cavities to the aspiration of developing “living fillings” that grow and mend cavities.

The Vision: A Century of Dental Progress

The researchers’ vision extends further—to growing stem cell-derived teeth that could replace lost ones entirely. Dr. Hai Zhang, co-author and professor of restorative dentistry, envisions this as a potential “Century of Living Fillings” and a revolutionary era for regenerative dentistry.

In the realm of dentistry, stem cells are paving the way for innovations that were once beyond imagination. The dawn of “living fillings” and the rejuvenation of dental well-being may be on the horizon, thanks to the dedication of scientific pioneers.

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Emma Elsher

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