Scientists from the Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan have reported that human dental pulp stem cells may help repair severe injuries of the spinal cord. Recent studies involving lab rats with severe spinal cord injury (SCI) that had human dental pulp stem cells implanted showed significant improvement in healing and movement, including allowing those with completely severed spinal cords to walk in just five weeks.
Dental stem cells have been gaining popularity in many areas of medical research, as they are easily obtainable and lack the controversy associated with embryonic stem cells. Dental stem cells are taken from adult teeth that are commonly extracted, such as wisdom teeth. Inside of the tooth is dental pulp, which is the soft, living tissue that contains the stem cells.
Past research has shown that dental stem cells may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of lost or damaged biological functions, but the Nagoya study gives hope that these stem cells may help heal the most serious of spinal cord injuries. According to the researchers involved in this study, the dental stem cells not only helped inhibit the death of the nerve cells, but also helped promote regeneration of severed nerves and replaced lost support cells in the rats with severed spinal cords. These are key factors in rehabilitation that past studies with stem cells collected from non-dental sources lacked.
According to Minoru Ueda, M.D., “To our knowledge, the latter two neuroregenerative activities are unique to tooth-derived stem cells and are not exhibited by any other previously described stem cells.” He continued, “We propose that tooth-derived stem cells may be an excellent and practical cellular resource for the treatment of SCI.”
While significantly more research is needed before these methods will be used in human patients with severe spinal cord injury, it does provide hope that easily obtainable stem cells may provide the key to a more complete and speedy recovery in the future for those with SCI. It is also one more reason you might want to take care of your teeth!