Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have isolated human dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs) from healthy wisdom teeth.
These stem cells offer “a new source of corneal transplant tissue made from the patient’s own cells,” according to a press release from the university.
Stem cell research is an exciting and slowly progressing research field in biology. A stem cell is a unique cell that has the potential to develop into many different cell types. A pluripotent stem cell can become every type of cell in the body. A multipotent stem cells can become only some types of cells. When a stem cell divides, each new cell is capable of remaining a stem cell or becoming another type of cell with a more specialized function. Such specialized cells include muscle cells, red blood cells, or brain cells (neurons). The most work has been done on embryonic stem cells, but these findings suggest the potential of dental stem cells.
According to the Pittsburgh study, these stem cells can be encouraged to differentiate into cells of the eye’s cornea. This technique could possibly be used to repair corneal scarring due to injury or injection. Corneal blindness is normally treated with donor cornea transplants. Using a patient’s own cells for treatment can help avoid the problems of donor shortages or rejection of donor tissue.
The specific research study that led to these findings involved the application of these DPSCs into mice. The research team at Pitt, including the study’s lead author, Fatima Syed-Picard, “injected engineered keratocytes [corneal stromal cells differentiated from dental stem cells] into the corneas of healthy mice, where they integrated without signs of rejection,” according to the press release. The team’s next goal is to use this animal model to study the potential of this technique to correct corneal scarring.
“Other research has shown that dental pulp stem cells can be used to make neural, bone and other cells,” said Syed-Picard, demonstrating the vast potential of stem cells in regenerative medicine. Much work will have to be done in both laboratories and clinics to understand how effectively these cells can be used for therapy. Nonetheless, the discovery of dental stem cells reveals a promising therapeutic option.
Cover image by Piotrus via Wikimedia Commons.