Origins and properties of dental stem cells

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Dental Institute School Office


Stem cells have an enormous potential for offering new clinical treatments of a wide variety of diseases and disorders because of their ability to form many different types of cells. Research on stem cells is currently focussed into two main general areas: 1. The use of embryonic stem cells (ES). 2. The use of adult stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are an attractive source because they are easy to grow and are capable of producing all cell types in the body. The main problem with ES cells is that they can only be derived from early stage embryos and obtaining these cells from each individual patient is not feasible. Without being able to do this any ES cell therapy may require immune suppression to avoid rejection.

Adult stem cells are populations of cells that are found in many different tissues and organs of the body, including the intestine, bone marrow, hair and skin. These cells offer a major advantage for clinical use since they can be obtained from each patient and thus would not be rejected by the immune system. The problems with adult stem cells are that they are often present in small numbers and their ability to form different cell types varies depending on the tissue source.

The ideal source of stem cells is one where the cells are easily and repeatedly accessible, can be easily cultured in vitro and their differentiation potentials are known and can be manipulated. Currently there is no single source of stem cells that satisfies these criteria.

Stem cells have been recently identified in teeth, both from adults and from milk teeth naturally lost by children. Teeth may offer a source of stem cells that can be easily obtained and because children naturally lose up to 20 milk teeth, there is the potential of having 20 opportunities to bank these cells for future use. At present however very little is known about these stem cells and the aim of this project therefore is to investigate where these cells come from, and to study what cell types they are able to form. This research will determine how usable these cells will be for clinical therapies and will also provide the reagents for identifying and purifying dental stem cells from patients teeth.

Technical Summary

Teeth can potentially provide an easily accessible source of adult stem cells that could be used for a wide variety of dental and non-dental stem cell-based therapies. Stem cells are believed to be present in dental pulp and can be identified in cultures of pulp cells from naturally exfoliated children?s teeth and adult teeth. It is currently not known however if these cells are a single population or if there are multiple stem cell populations derived from different cell lineages. Moreover, the differentiation potential of these cells has not been thoroughly investigated. Since these questions are difficult to answer in humans, the aim of this proposal is to investigate the origins of dental pulp stem cells and identify their differentiation potential using mouse genetics. The outcome of this project will be an understanding of the nature of dental pulp stem cells that will determine the extent to which they will be a source of cells that can be banked following tooth loss in children and adults to be available for a variety of therapeutic uses and thus provide an alternative to cord blood and other bankable stem cells. In addition we will obtain clonal populations of the stem cells that can be used to identify novel markers to enable the equivalent cells to be purified from human teeth.


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Feng J (2010) Perivascular cells as mesenchymal stem cells. in Expert opinion on biological therapy

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Miletich I (2011) Developmental stalling and organ-autonomous regulation of morphogenesis. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Ohazama A (2010) A role for suppressed incisor cuspal morphogenesis in the evolution of mammalian heterodont dentition. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Volponi AA (2010) Stem cell-based biological tooth repair and regeneration. in Trends in cell biology

Description UKSCN 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact UK Stem Cell Netwrok annual conference, Edinburgh. Invited speaker

Offers of collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008