Adult Stem Cell Overview
Recent exciting, new discoveries place Dentists at the forefront of helping their patients benefit from potentially life-saving therapies derived from a patient's own stem cells obtained from deciduous teeth, third molars and permanent teeth.
Stem cells are immature, undifferentiated cells that can divide, multiply and differentiate into specific types of cells and tissues. There are two types of stem cells: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Different types of adult stem cells have been identified in many tissues and organs in the human body. Until recently, researchers believed that stem cells could only give rise to cells related to tissues and organs in their immediate surroundings. However, a number of recent studies show that stem cells from one area of the body may be manipulated to grow into cell types of a completely different tissue. This ability is called "transdifferentiation" or "plasticity," and different types of adult stem cells have this ability in varying degrees.
Adult stem cells in dental pulp are a recent discovery, they are undifferentiated mesenchymal stem cells, which appear to have greater plasticity than other adult stem cell types. Dental stem cells, like other mesenchymal stem cells, can transdifferentiate into cardiac muscle cells and skeletal muscle cells, suggesting an important future role in muscle repair and regeneration. Adult stem cells in dental pulp are easily obtained from primary and permanent teeth.
Recently, investigators have discovered a unique type of mesenchymal stem cell in the dental pulp of deciduous and permanent teeth. Scientists have observed that these stem cells act differently than other adult stem cells. These dentally-derived mesenchymal stem cells are capable of extensive proliferation and differentiation, which makes them an important resource of stem cells for regeneration and repair of a multitude of diseased and injured organs and tissues. Given their ability to produce and secrete neurotrophic factors, these stem cells may also be beneficial for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and the repair of motoneurons following injury.
Research on dental mesenchymal stem cells is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Over 1,000 research studies from institutions around the world have been published since the year 2000 that make reference to dental stem cells. In the year 2007 alone, over 1000 research articles were published on Dental Stem Cells. Additionally, over 60 clinical investigations with animals and human volunteers have been published seeking to identify potential new medical treatments from adult stem cells.
Stem cell-based therapies are being investigated for the treatment of many conditions including: neurodegenerative conditions, liver disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, and for nerve regeneration following brain or spinal cord injury.
As these clinical studies continue to advance in the years ahead, it is widely expected that to avoid autoimmune rejection from donor tissues and to maximize therapeutic efficacy, stem cells will be used to generate a specific treatment for a specific patient. The emerging field of "Personalized Medicine" is a popular topic in the media, which generally refers to new medical technologies derived from a patientís own stem cells and the use of genomic diagnostics.
While we can see the promise of human stem cell therapies for the future, Dentists know that it is important to act now to harvest and store cells from deciduous teeth and third molars while the opportunities are available to child and adolescent patients.