Can baby teeth save lives?
Stem cells from baby teeth cryogenically stored could cure serious diseases.
by Pam Johnson
Have any of your patients ever told you or your staff about one of their young children suffering from a chronic or even debilitating disease? Up until now most dentists and practice staff could only listen, empathize, and perhaps suggest a doctor they knew or a new treatment they had read about.
However, a discovery in 2003 led by researcher Dr. Songtao Shi at the National Institute of Health and a new business that has sprung up around his discovery have changed the role dentists can play toward helping patients one day find a solution for loved ones suffering from serious health problems such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord damage, or even neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Stem cells in baby teeth
The discovery that baby teeth harbor collectible or useful, regenerative stem cells within the dental pulp by Dr. Shi six years ago is bringing dentistry to the forefront of a new frontier of “biodentistry” and has spurred the opening of companies worldwide that collect and store these stem cells until they may be needed by the patient or the patient’s immediate family at some future date. BioEDEN, an FDA-registered facility headquartered in Austin, Tex. with branches in Manchester, England and in Thailand, was the first company to make available a baby tooth stem cell bank in 2006. “We currently have more than 2,000 samples stored worldwide,” said Jeff Johnson Director of Operations.
Tooth Stem Cell Storage Banks
BioEDEN6800 W. Gate Blvd.Ste. 132, PMB — 369Austin, TX 78745888-315-3843www.bioeden.com
StemSave526 West 26th StreetNew York, NY 1001877-StemSavewww.stemsave.com
National Dental Pulp Laboratory153 Needham Street, Building — 1Newton, MA 02464800-991-4999www.ndpl.net
Even though no stem cells from baby teeth have yet been used to treat a human, research is making rapid advancements in medical trials taking place in around the world. What researchers have found, Johnson said, is that the mesenchymal stem cells contained in dental pulp are functionally identical to the mesenchymal stem cells taken from bone marrow.
“That’s exciting because bone marrow stem cells have been used for years in clinical therapies to treat serious diseases,” he said. “In the minds of most researchers, it is widely recognized that stem cells will be the future of medicine. And the fact that we can collect stem cells from primary teeth provides a non-invasive, non-controversial source that is available to everyone.”
Research continues on the viability of extracting stem cells from adult teeth. What BioEDEN has learned is that young adult wisdom teeth contain the same viable stem cells as those found in primary teeth. However, once we are past a certain age (and BioEDEN is working on determining what that age is) the viability of the stem cells decreases.
Johnson said that what makes stem cells extracted from teeth so remarkable is that they can be grown in culture and can be expanded to therapeutic levels and still maintain their therapeutic potential. This means that each stem cell collected can grow into millions and millions of viable cells. Unlike other sources of stem cells, this ability provides enough material for many treatments, perhaps over a lifetime.
It was this possibility that attracted Dr. Gerald Kelly, a general practitioner in Dearborn, Mich. His was the first dental practice in Michigan to endorse and participate in BioEDEN’s program, which now numbers in the hundreds of practices across the U.S. “This is such a great opportunity to give parents the insurance that stored stem cells could one day save their child’s life, reverse a deadly disease, or even save the life of a family member,” said Dr. Kelly. His young granddaughter, Hannah, just relinquished her first baby tooth to BioEDEN for storage as did the daughter of one of his staff members. Dr. Kelly’s belief in the project plus his 10 years working in a medical lab as a chemist and professorship at the local college teaching chemistry has driven him to conduct seminars all across the U.S. telling dentists about the BioEDEN program, the science behind stem cell research, and new advances in clinical trials.
“This is a new frontier in dentistry,” said Kelly. “A scientific light that we need to follow.” Although only four of Kelly’s patients have participated in the program thus far, he is hopeful many more are to follow. He keeps BioEDEN transport kits in his office just for this purpose. “One thing dentists need to understand is that the most viable stem cells come from anterior primary teeth that are only slightly loose in the socket,” he said. “If the tooth is dangling and already mostly out of the socket, the chances decrease that viable stem cells exist.” The tooth must also be prepared, packaged, and shipped and received at the laboratory within 48 hours after it is out of the mouth. That’s why he says dental practitioners need to be involved in the process. He has patient literature provided by BioEDEN in his practice and is proactively telling his patients about the program. “This is science that I wholly embrace,” said Kelly. “I’m so glad I spent the $600 so that my granddaughter’s stem cells are available should she need them some day.”