It sounds like a bioengineered fantasy, but this strange method of regrowing teeth may just have some merit. This past summer, researchers from China published their findings in the Cell Regeneration Journal, showing how they grew simple teeth out of urine.
Yes, that’s right, urine. Urine contains human stem cells that can be used as a source for creating constructions that resemble teeth. The hope is that a method similar to the one attempted could be used to regrow missing teeth in a timely and cost-effective manner for humans in the future.
Close But Softer
The Chinese scientists from the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health mixed together human gum cells and materials from mice and inserted that back into the animals. Around three weeks later, these cells had transformed in soft, tooth-like structures.
The scientists were quoted in the Cell Regeneration Journal as saying, “The tooth-like structure contained dental pulp, dentin, enamel space and enamel organ.” The theory is that getting cells from patients themselves would limit the probability of the body rejecting it.
Could Help With Cost And Need
These lab-grown teeth were about one-third as hard as real teeth, but their growth was achieved with a low cost start (urine stem cells) as its base. The hope is that dentists and orthodontists will one day have viable ways of building back missing or lost teeth for their patients. Being able to “grow” teeth in the jaw could alleviate the need for costly implants or the false teeth that are used now, and could make treatment accessible to more of the population. “Dental professionals are always looking for ways to improve the tooth replacement process.” notes Dr. Travis Magelsen, a dentist in Monroe, WA.
Not Without Controversy
Of course, using urine in teeth-growing is not without controversy. Other scientists point out that using stem cells, which is a simple cell that is able to develop into any one of various kinds of cells, from urine is not the best source of these cells. Professor Chris Mason of University College London was quoted on the BBC News health website as saying: “It is probably one of the worst sources…there are very few cells in the first place, and the efficiency of turning them into stem cells is very low. You just wouldn’t do it this way.”
A First Step
So the scientists still have a way to go towards their goal, as not only are the test teeth not hard enough, but the researchers in China only had a 30% rate of success when growing their pseudo-teeth. Often, human bodies rebuff imported cells, and even though the plan is to use a patient’s own urine stem cells, it is not proven that it could work effectively.
After all, it is a long way from mice to humans and researchers still need to see exactly how these regrown teeth would interact with blood vessels and nerves in the mouth; not to mention the presumed public reaction to having urine being used in places other than the toilet.
Featured image: License: Creative Commons image source
Author E.H. Rossman is freelance health and technology writer based in the Pacific Northwest.