According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, more than 13,000 young people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (also known as juvenile-onset diabetes) in North America each year. Diabetes is a chronic disease among children, and an estimated 151,000 North Americans under the age of 20 have it. European studies have shown an increase in frequency of Type 1 diabetes, especially among young children. A cure may be on the horizon, and an important element may come from an unexpected place – teeth.
In 2000 National Institutes of Health scientists reported isolating stem cells from dental pulp. Simply put, stem cells are special cells that can develop into different types of cells in the body. The body uses them to help it grow and repair itself. Because of their abilities to regenerate, stem cells offer important potential for treating diseases like diabetes and heart disease. A study published in Regenerative Medicine in 2009 suggested that insulin-producing stem cells could be found in the periodontal ligament. The implications were very exciting. Could a non-controversial source, dental tissue, be used to harvest stem cells for treatment of Type 1 diabetes?
A recent study published in the Journal of Dental Research indicates the answer may be “yes”. Researchers were able to harvest stem cells from baby teeth extracted due to management of crowding issues. They were then able to culture these dental stem cells in a manner to transform them into cells similar to those in the pancreas which secrete insulin. For more on the study, click here. The study represents a significant step forward in developing stem cell therapy for diabetes. Namely, it may be possible to turn stem cells from teeth into insulin-producing beta cells.
This is big news. For the last few years, Provia Labs has offered the Store-a-Tooth program. This service allows dentists to help their patients store and preserve baby teeth and other extracted teeth (e.g. wisdom teeth) for potential use in future stem cell therapies. Just imagine a patient being able to use their own banked dental tissue to help treat or cure diabetes. Very cool stuff! And with promising research such as the studies mentioned earlier, it may be close to becoming reality.
Now, Provia Labs is putting their money where their mouths are. They recently launched the Store a Tooth, Find a Cure initiative to help raise funds for diabetes research. Provia Labs will donate half of their proceeds from each new sale to leading diabetes research organizations. Hopefully with additional research and fundraising programs such as this, we will soon realize a cure for diabetes. And with the promise of using stem cells from dental tissue, we may soon be able to take a bite out of many other serious diseases and conditions.
Author’s Note: I have no financial or commercial interest in the company and services mentioned in this article. I simply like to learn and write about cool happenings and companies in dentistry.