Stem cells are a very popular topic nowadays, and you can hear about them, the experiments with them, treatments making use of them, and their healing, regenerative powers. In 1960, Ernest A McCulloch and James E Till, both Canadian researchers, started to explore stem cells in more detail, and others rely heavily on their work.
Stem cells are often mentioned in relation to their effects in cancer research, but they are being put to work in ever newer and newer territories of science, and you can really see that in the article sin journals like Science and Nature. In these articles they herald stem cells as the basis for future cures to diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes. Parkinson’s, meningitis or muscular dystrophy.
Aside from all of these amazing developments, it seems that stem cells are also useful in treating malformed or damaged jaws, with no surgical intervention.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells can be found in most creatures. They divided myotically, which makes them uniquely able to become like other cells in the body and thus fulfil the function of virtually any cell. Thanks to this cells that are used up can be regenerated indefinitely. There are three places in the human body where stem cells are present in high concentrations: in the blood found in the umbilical cord, and these stem cells can be harvested at birth without risk or pain. The second is in the bone marrow, as the stem cells that become platelets, red blood cells and leukocytes. The third is in the hip. Peripheral blood also has stem cells, but the blood needs to undergo acculturation before it can be harvested.
Which is more effective?
A recent string of experiments has shown without a doubt that stem cells not only regenerate jaw bones and the soft tissues on them, but can do so much quicker and much more effectively than any previous bone replacement therapy known to medical science. Two research groups were assigned the task of proving this, both at the University of Michigan’s Dentistry Department. Their goal was to stabilize a jaw after it has undergone an extraction. The first group did their best using the currently popular bone replacement methods, while the other one used stem cells.
Outcome of the study
The patients had stem cells taken from their hip, which were then used for the treatment. The extractions were treated with a so-called Aastrom treatment, which makes the stem cells multiply. These enhanced stem cells were then implanted into the affected tissues. As Darnell Kiagler has previously noted, it is extremely difficult to replace the missing teeth of patients who have some kind of anomaly in the jaw, in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing, looks natural and is functional at the same time. This is why stem cells are so important, as they can regenerate the parts of the jaw that have been negatively affected. Once regenerated, jaws like this have no problems in housing a dental implant.
A birth defect or a severe trauma can make things a bit more complicated, as the gums, the bones and the skin even can be affected greatly. These situations can only be effectively remedied using stem cell technology! It is worth noting that all this can be done without the use of any artificial materials, only tissues harvested from the patients very own body.
Hope for the future
After 6 to 12 weeks, the patients whose jaws were healed using stem cells received dental implants. The control group, who were treated using foreign materials and often didn’t even need bone augmentation therapies did not heal as quickly, or have as good bone density as the patients cured with stem cells. These results are grounds for optimism- claims professor Darnell Kaigler- but stem cell therapy is still in its infancy. Developing effective and safe methods of regeneration, popularizing them within a sometimes reluctant professional circle, and the working out of all defects and possible sources of problems will take another 5 to 10 years. Until then a lot of research and experimentation needs to happen in this field, before it can be an effective part of medical science.