The use of stem cells throughout the years has been both a decisive topic and one that holds a lot of promise for potential medical therapy. They are essentially undifferentiated biological cells that haven’t yet been specialized for a specific purpose. The cells of your heart, stomach, and even your brain have all started out as stem cells, and it wasn’t until some point during human development that biological processes channeled them to permanently becoming one type of cell. Scientists and researchers around the globe are always in search of the best way to learn about and harvest these valuable cells, and the latest reports suggest the teeth of rodents are an abundant source.
There are considered two main stem cell types in the body: one is from embryonic development when in the womb, and the other are adult stem cells that exist throughout the body. Harvesting embryonic stem cells has been controversial, as it often seen as unethical, but adult stem cells—found in organs such as the bone marrow, blood vessel, and liver in mammals—is easier to obtain. Stomach linings, for example, require the constant shedding of their cell linings as the acid wears away at them, and having adult stems cells allows for quick replacement of these sloughed off cells.
We’ve all seen mice before, and one of their defining characteristics are their front teeth. What most people aren’t aware of is that their front teeth, or incisors, constantly grow, as they rely on them to be consistently sharp for burrowing and self-defense, and of course, for eating away at your pantry food.
“As we grow older our teeth start to wear out, and in nature, once you don’t have your teeth anymore, you die. As a result, mice and many other animals — from elephants to some primates — can grow their teeth continuously. Our lab’s objective is to learn the rules that let mouse incisors grow continuously to help us one day grow teeth in the lab, but also to help us identify general principles that could enable us to understand the processes of tissue renewal much more broadly,” said UC San Francisco’s Ophir Klein, MD, Ph.D., a professor of orofacial sciences in UCSF’s School of Dentistry and of pediatrics in the School of Medicine.
In this recent study involving rodent teeth, researchers at the University of California have discovered that signals from the surrounding tissue are responsible for triggering the process of stem cell differentiation—and in the case of rodent teeth, transforming them into mature tooth tissue. This changes what we used to believe about stem cell differentiation, as chemical signals were believed to cause this change, but now an interaction between the physical environment and the cells have been observed.
While not all aspects of this process are fully understood just yet, as the exact signals triggering this process have yet to be identified. It, however, marks an advancement of knowledge in the field, and one that bodes well for the future of stem cell therapy. It may prove beneficial for tissue regeneration to treat everything from severe burns to growing entire organs from scratch.