Monday, December 28, 2009

Talk About "Grow Your Own"

Photo courtesy: The Fire Wire

Lizards, spiders, sea cucumbers, worms, and sponges are a few of the living creatures that can do it. Pretty soon, humans may be able to do it, too.

What is “it”? It is the ability to regenerate portions of one’s own body. People may soon be joining the ranks of creatures such as sharks – species with the ability to regenerate their own teeth.

Some scientists are confident that in the very near future, people will be able to replace lost teeth, not with dentures; but, with brand new ones grown by the owner.

A small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing tooth used to be. No more will bedside tables hold a glass of water with dentures grinning eerily inside. If you lose a tooth, a quick trip to the dentist and a local anaesthetic later, starts you growing your own replacement. A few months later, no one would ever know that you hadn’t had that tooth all your life.

Dental procedures today require a metal post to be driven into the jaw before being capped with a porcelain or plastic tooth.

"The surgery today can be extensive and you need to have good solid bone in the jaw and that is a major problem for some people," Professor Sharpe, a specialist in the field of regenerative dentistry at the Dental Institute of King's College, London, says.

He also points out that this method could be used on far more patients because the ball of cells that grows into a tooth also produces bone that anchors to the jaw.

The choice of growing a new tooth is likely to appeal to patients.

"Anyone who has lost teeth will tell you that, given the chance, they would rather have their own teeth than false ones," said Prof. Sharpe.

Photo courtesy: eHow

The procedure is fairly simple to perform. Doctors take stem cells, which are unique in their ability to form any tissue which makes up the body, from the patient; and, carefully nurture them in a laboratory. By selective nudging, a scientist can coax the cells into becoming teeth. After a couple of weeks of careful direction, the ball of cells (called a bud) is ready to be implanted. Tests are run to determine which type of tooth (molar, incisor, etc.) the bud will mature into.

A local anaethetic is used while the bud is inserted through a small incision into the gum. As the tooth grows, it releases chemicals that encourage nerves and blood vessels to link up with it. Within a few months, a fully-formed, full-functional tooth is present fused to the jawbone.

Tests have shown the technique to work in mice, where new teeth took weeks to grow. "There's no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same," said Prof. Sharpe.

His team has set up a company, Odontis, to exploit the technique; and, it is already garnering interest from the private sector. He has won £400,000 ($639,509 USD) from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and the Wellcome Trust.

Via Guardian

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