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    Stem cells from teeth may restore sight

    In a study in mice published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh demonstrated that stem cells harvested from teeth extracted during routine dental procedures could potentially be used to restore sight in those suffering from corneal blindness.

    The University of Pittsburgh team, led by Dr James L. Funderburgh, PhD, and Dr Fatima Syed-Picard, PhD, both in the Department of Ophthalmology, focused their research on adult dental pulp stem cells (DPSC).

    “If we could generate an engineered cornea using autologous cells, which are the patient’s own cells, and then use that to replace scarred tissue, we could bypass the limitations of current treatments,” Dr Funderburgh explained. “We thought dental pulp might be the answer, as other studies have proven that DPSCs can differentiate into various other cells, and they already have a similarity to cornea tissue as they both develop in the embryo stage from the cranial neural crest. That led us to believe that we might induce DPSCs to become corneal cells.”

    The team began by collecting DPSCs from molar teeth discarded after routine extractions at the university’s dental school and then treated the cells in a special solution that caused them to differentiate into corneal keratocytes. When they tested the DPSC-generated keratocytes they found they had the same properties as those grown naturally in the human eye.

    The researchers then seeded the cells onto a corneal-shaped nanofibre substrate to see if they could engineer corneal tissue. Four weeks later, the cells had grown into a structure that mimicked the complex organization of an actual cornea.

    Finally, the researchers evaluated how the DPSC-generated keratocytes would perform by labelling them with a dye and then injecting them into the right eyes of mice. The left eye of each animal was injected with medium only, as a control. When the mice’s eyes were tested after 5 weeks, it was found that the DPSC-generated keratocytes had remained in the corneas and behaved similarly to natural keratocytes. The corneas were clear, and there were no signs of rejection.

    “These studies provide promising data on the potential translation of DPSC as an autologous cell source for regenerative corneal therapies and possibly more,” Dr Funderburgh concluded.

    The full article, “Dental Pulp Stem Cells: a New Cellular Resource for Corneal Stromal Regeneration,” can be accessed at www.stemcellstm.com

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