Back in February I posted a story about tooth regeneration using dental stem cells, something that would revolutionize dentistry, making things like dentures a relic of the past.
The latest discovery is that human teeth can be engineered to regenerate, thanks to the world’s most poisonous fish.
British scientists have been studying the pufferfish beak and have found it is uniquely resilient, generating new teeth every two weeks for the animal’s lifetime.
They believe the beak provides a model for creating a system of continuous tooth replacement in humans.
“The pufferfish beak is completely unique,” project leader Dr. Gareth Fraser of the University of Sheffield says. “The main thing is we can use it to identify the gene network for tooth replacement. We can see how nature makes new teeth and about the genes that govern that process.”
Stem cells in the jaw control tooth growth, and they stop producing in humans after the adult set. Many marine creatures have permanently active stem cells in their jaws, and Fraser’s team have spent years experimenting with sharks, zebra fish and now pufferfish toward genetically engineering human stem cells to behave the same way.
“It’s almost possible now but different groups are collaborating to figure out a few problems. One is making teeth grow in the right position,” says Fraser.
Tooth regeneration has become a fast-moving area of research. The pufferfish discovery follows the successful engineering of a tooth from mouse stem cells by Tokyo University scientists last year.
Research like this has also triggered a swell of interest in banking stem cells, especially dental stem cells - easily obtained from baby teeth falling out or wisdom teeth and teeth extracted for orthodontia.