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Tooth cells can fix your brain

Wednesday December 08, 2010

The Times of India - The solution to memory loss in your old age might lie in that errant wisdom tooth.

Special stem cells extracted from the pulp of one's tooth could be injected into the brain to cure Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease and spinal chord probl, the first international conference of the Indian Association of Oral and Maxilofacial Pathologists here on Tuesday was told.

"People extract their teeth, children give their milk teeth to tooth fairies'. All these teeth are rich sources of stem cells which can be cultured and used to treat brain disorders," said Dr K Ranganathan, dental surgeon and oral pathologist.

The best thing about stem cells obtained from teeth is that they share their origin with nerve cells that constitute the brain. "Stem cells from teeth can either be injected into the brain where they mimic nerve cells or they can be converted into nerve cells in the lab and injected. Cells available in the dental pulp originate from the brain and share a lot of characteristics with nerve cells, making them multipotent."

While stem cells from different parts of the body have been in use for treatment of several ailments, their limited number (10- 15 per tooth) posed a big challenge to scientists trying to culture them. Now medical science has developed methods to grow them in a lab to a mass sufficient to be used for stem cell therapy.

"In our experiments two months ago, we found that within one month 10-15 stem cells can multiply into one lakh stem cells," said Dr Ranganathan. Easy extraction of tooth and absence of ethical issues make tooth pulp stem cells an attractive option.

The discovery of tooth pulp stem cells in 2003 and the subsequent research that threw light on their therapeutic potential have underscored the need for dental pulp stem cell banks. "Stem cells from an individual could be extracted when their teeth are extracted, stored in a bank and used in their old age to treat diseases," said Dr Ranganathan

Another presentation that caught the attention of the delegates was on an oral check-up that could detect the presence of HIV in a person. Making the presentation, Dr Uma Devi, organising secretary, said, "If your immune system is down as it happens in HIV, your mouth is the first organ to show signs of the infection. Hence it can be used as a screening process in a country like India where blood tests in large numbers are tough," she said.

Experts from the US, Mexico, Thailand, England, Australia and China will talk about oral hygiene, oral cancer and new diagnostic methods at the three-day conference.