UK researchers have successfully bioengineered teeth from gum tissue and cells taken from mice. By combining and transplanting two groups of cells, they were able to grow full teeth, complete with roots, dentine, and enamel! The research is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Dental Research.
The cells from the mice, known as micemesenchyme, are cultured in the lab to induce human epithelial cells to become teeth. Professor Paul Sharpe, who led the research, says the bio-tooth is "natural, with a normal root structure and connections to bone."
But before you dash off to buy multitudes of mouse traps, the big problem is finding micemesenchyme in human form, and in commercial quantities. Sharpe: "What's required is adult sources of human epithelial and mesenchymal cells that can be obtained in sufficient numbers to make biotooth formation a viable alternative to dental implants."
The aim is to produce teeth under $1,500 each. But Sharpe says this will be at least five years away, and he admits other scientists may get there first. A company Sharpe founded a few years ago to commercialise the work collapsed, when investors baulked at the timeframes involved: "This cell-based research takes lots of time and funders are impatient. If/when we get a fully working protocol that uses cells that could be used in patients, I will most likely seek out links with the large dental companies."
So, at least for now, the Tooth Fairy's job is safe!