May 20, 2014

Stem cells are cells that are able to differentiate into specialized cell types, aiding tissue regeneration, cardiovascular disease and blood disease treatments. But now, researchers have found that stem cells from teeth grow to resemble brain cells, a discovery they say could be harnessed in the brain for stroke therapy.

The team, from the University of Adelaide in Australia, publish their results in the journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy.

Led by Dr. Kylie Ellis, of the university’s Adelaide Research & Innovation (ARI), the researchers say interest in using dental pulp stem cells for post-stroke neurological recovery has been growing, following successful pre-clinical studies.

“The reality is,” says Dr. Ellis, “treatment options to the thousands of stroke patients every year are limited.”

She explains that the main available drug treatment has to be dispensed within hours of a stroke, but most people do not have access to the treatment within that window, as they sometimes do not seek help immediately after a stroke occurs.

In the lab, the research team was able to show that stem cells taken from teeth can flourish and “form complex networks of brain-like cells.” Though the cells did not grow into full neurons, the team believes with time and the right conditions, it will happen.

Dr. Ellis adds:

“Stem cells from teeth have great potential to grow into new brain or nerve cells, and this could potentially assist with treatments of brain disorders, such as stroke.”

Discovery could yield ‘tailor-made brain therapy’

Along with her colleagues, Dr. Ellis has been working on a model in the lab for treatment in humans. She notes that, in this research, she and her team discovered that teeth-derived stem cells developed into cells closely resembling neurons.

Mouse dental stem cells
Pictured here, dental pulp stem cell-derived brain-like cells from mice form complex networks. Image credit: Dr. Kylie Ellis, University of Adelaide

She says they do this by creating an environment for the cells as close to the normal brain environment as they possibly can. She adds that “instead of becoming cells for teeth, they become brain cells.”

Dr. Ellis and her team say they would like to have the capability to use a patient’s own stem cells for “tailor-made brain therapy that doesn’t have the host rejection issues commonly associated with cell-based therapies.”

Additionally, the bonus in using this tailor-made therapy is that it could mean a treatment option is available “months or even years after the stroke has occurred,” Dr. Ellis adds.

And beyond stroke therapy, they say their work with dental pulp stem cells creates the potential for exploring other common brain disorders in the lab, possibly yielding other new treatments.

“What we developed wasn’t identical to normal neurons,” says Dr. Ellis, “but the new cells shared very similar properties to neurons. They also formed complex networks and communicated through simple electrical activity, like you might see between cells in the developing brain.”

In other stem cell research news, Medical News Today recently reported on a breakthrough study, in which researchers created the first disease-specific embryonic stem cell line with two sets of chromosomes. They said their findings could yield patient-specific therapies for type 1 diabetes.

Meanwhile, researchers from another study created the first stem cell model for bipolar disorder, which they say could lead to new treatments.


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