Most anyone who enjoys the biologic sciences is fascinated with the seemingly limitless potential tied to the special characteristics of stem cells.
Like most cells within a living organism, stem cells are able to renew themselves through ordinary cell division into another stem cell. What makes stems cells special, however, is their potential, under special conditions, to transition into other types of tissue or organ cells. It is the stem cells within a very early embryo that transition into the specialized cells of other tissue types and organs like the heart, brain, lungs, kidneys liver, bone and skin. But stem cells are of critical importance throughout life. Within the bone marrow or the digestive tract, for instance, stem cells often divide to provide ongoing repairs or replacement of dead or damaged tissue throughout the body.
It is this special potential that lures researchers to give their lives to the study of how stem cells might potentially be used to provide for the repair or regeneration of diseased patients.
In February of this year, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine announced that they have been able to coax stem cells harvested from dental pulps to transition into cells of the cornea of the eye.
Blindness related to corneal diseases impacts millions of people around the world. Typically these ailments are treated through the transplantation of a cadaver-donated cornea.
“Shortages of donor corneas and rejection of donor tissue do occur, which can result in permanent vision loss,” reports James Funderburgh, PhD, professor of ophthalmology at Pitt. “Our work is promising because using the patient’s own cells for treatment could help us avoid these problems.”
Researchers have obtained extracted human third molars (wisdom teeth) from Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine. Subsequently they have discovered a pathway that successfully transitions stem cells from these third molar pulps into corneal stromal cells called keratocytes.
When these newly created keratocytes are injected into the corneas of healthy mice, they have integrated without any signs of rejection!
The next step within this ongoing animal model research will be to determine whether they are able to actually correct corneal defects.
Fatima Syed-Picard, PhD, the research team’s lead author, reports, “Other research has shown that dental pulp stem cells can be used to make neural (nerve), bone and other cells”.
Across the decades wisdom teeth have been routinely regarded as the nuisance that haunts adolescent patients. A small minority of people have adequate room for the third molars to fit and remain healthy within the mouth. They are routinely extracted rather unceremonially by the millions and tossed into the trash. Perhaps in the future, today’s trash will be regarded as the treasure that houses the potential for health and renewal!
Dr. Davis is especially good with kids. And his staff? Helpful, compassionate, and caring. They take care of business for you. Thumbs up. 10 on a scale of 5.