A new breakthrough in the orthopedic realm has recently been made by researchers at UNLV regarding the extraction of stem cells from wisdom teeth. Before we get into the specifics however, it is best to first understand what stem cells are, and what their impact will be for the future of health.
Stem cells are miraculously able to act as transformers, either recreating or morphing into a variety of cell types found within the organisms they originate from. The discovery of stem cells is clearly one of the biggest breakthroughs in modern science because of their endless potential to provide therapy for a numerous amount of chronic and terminal diseases. Also, finding stem cells is fairly simple according to Dr. James Mah at UNLV who states, “Stem cells can be extracted from nearly any living tissue. In fact, stem cells can even be found in tissues of the deceased.” Stem cells seem to be the miracle solution for treating diseases but there is a huge catch. In order to use them to carry out certain procedures, scientists need an abundant supply of the cells. Also, they have to make sure that they remain healthy after they are harvested.
So, where is there an abundance of stem cells in humans?
With approximately 5 million adults in the United States getting their wisdom teeth removed in their lifetimes, the opportunity for dental research from these third molars is innumerable. The tooth root pulp that can be found during any wisdom teeth removal surgery, is becoming extremely valuable for stem cell research, as shown by the men and women at UNLV.
There are two types of stem cells that are found in the roots of wisdom teeth that can be harvested for further research, pluripotent stem cells and multipotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells were the primary focus for the graduates at UNLV because they have the ability to transform into any type of cell on the organism that they came from. As you can probably already guess, this means that the multipotent cells can only morph into specific types of cells when placed back onto its original source.
The researchers then faced the problem of drilling into the wisdom teeth while still optimizing the number of viable stem cells after the drilling is completed. They debated just cutting the teeth in half and just using the cells that were still alive for reproduction but then a student named Happy Ghag had a better plan. Happy introduced a precise cutting technique that he invented based on his knowledge of fracture mechanics literature. Since UNLV combines their mechanical engineering program with their dental program, there are projects like this that can be solved with much more efficiency.
Using blue dye, the researchers and students produced a stem cell recovery rate of around 80%. This number is overwhelming considering the fact that before this experiment was done the average recovery rate by trained scientists was operating at a recovery rate of only 23%. Having completed their desired task, the graduates at UNLV replicated the process two times over and then conserved the remaining stem cell projects in petri dishes for further use. If these were normal tissue cells, they would die after around fifteen splits but since stem cells are at hand, the cells can split infinitely.
Are There any Other Big Breakthroughs in Stem Cell Orthopedic Research?
UNLV students aren’t the only ones who have been knocking at the doorstep of stem cell research for dental research. Dr. Sheng Ding, a professor at the University of California (San Francisco), along with Dr. Ben Scheven in the United Kingdom have also compiled some influential data.
Sheng Ding has been raised for redesigning the CRISPR-Cas9 system for gene splicing. He has altered the old system of using the CRISPR system to read DNA and RNA code to also create induced pluripotent stem cells. Ding described his work by saying, “We maintained the Cas9, or CRISPR genome localization function, but inactivated the DNA cutting function. On top of that, we fused a transcriptional activation factor with the Cas9 protein so that we could activate transcription at a specific genomic location.” To put his work simply, Ding has created a gateway into more stem cell research that can be essential for dental operations. Sheng has provided a way to read pluripotent stem cells in the tissue of the mouth so that oral exams can also take stem cells into account for disease prevention.
This research sounds nearly spotless but there is always a downfall to the method, and Sheng Ding’s problem was the same problem the students at UNLV faced. The problem I’m referring to is the safety profile of the cells. Ding could not find a solution to reprograming the RMA of the stem cell’s coding without damaging their health.
Retinal Ganglion Cells (RGC)
Researchers at the University of Birmingham, UK, led by Dr. Ben Scheven have discovered that stem cells located in the teeth (dental pulp stem cells) can protect retinal ganglion cells from death following injury. They can promote regeneration of their axons along the optic nerve.
RGC loss is the leading cause of blindness, which occurs through traumatic injury or through glaucoma. Neurotrophic factors act as survival signals during a traumatic injury and as a result they die off along with most of the RGCs. Dr. Ben Scheven’s research team confirmed that dental pulp stem cells naturally express neurotrophic factors so that they can slowly reproduce and heal.
What will we see next from stem cells?
There is nothing but good things for the future of stem cells in orthopedic research. It seems to be one of the only solutions to certain detrimental injuries including Glaucoma, spinal cord damage, and Huntington’s Disease. As doctor and author Ben Mead put it during his research, “For clinical application, comparisons with other stem cells as well as development of safe delivery mechanisms are to be investigated in the future.”