Finnish stem cell researchers have discovered a gene that serves as a marker for front teeth. Researchers in the group of Professor Irma Thesleff at the Institute of Biotechnology in Helsinki, Finland have developed a method to record the division, movement, and specification of these dental stem cells. Apparently, building a tooth requires a detailed recipe to instruct cells to differentiate towards proper lineages and form dental cells.
Building a tooth from stem cells is a very difficult talk. However the development of new bioengineering protocols might make this possible in a few years. There is definitely a demand for tissue engineered teeth, since tooth loss affects oral health, quality of life, and your appearance. To build a tooth, a detailed recipe to instruct cells to direct cells to differentiate towards proper cell lineages and form dental cells is needed. However, in order to study of stem cells, scientists need a specific protein that only those cells make (a marker), that allows the isolation of and purification of dental stem cells. Unfortunately, the lack of an identifiable marker has hindered such studies so far.
The mouse system is an excellent system for such studies, since mouse incisors grow continuously throughout life and this growth is fueled by stem cells located at the base of the tooth. In Professor Thesleff’s lab, her students traced the descendants of genetically labeled cells, and showed that a gene called Sox2 labels stem cells that give rise to enamel-forming ameloblasts as well as other cell lineages of the tooth.
Even though human teeth don’t grow continuously, the mechanisms that control and regulate their growth are similar to those in mouse teeth. Therefore, the discovery of Sox2 as a marker for dental stem cells is an important step toward developing a complete bioengineered tooth.
In the future, it may be possible to grow new teeth from stem cells to replace lost ones, said researcher Emma Juuri, a co-author of the study.