August 3, 2013. Beijing. Doctors in China just announced their success in growing human teeth inside mouse kidneys using human urine and mouse jaws. The world’s rapidly advancing stem cell research has yielded successful results that seemed impossible only two decades ago. But growing teeth from urine is a surprise that many never expected. Here’s how they did it.
Scientists turned urine stem cells into teeth. Image courtesy of Cell Regeneration Journal.
Much like the versatility of soybeans, petroleum and other magical substances, human stem cells have recently shown the ability to grow into virtually any human replacement body part. Once their rejuvenation capabilities were discovered, stem cell research accelerated exponentially across the globe in the early 2000’s. Since then, some pretty surprising discoveries have been made.
Growing human teeth from stem cells
Until now, the only option for people missing one or more teeth has been artificial dentures. But thanks to recent successes in laboratories around the world, mankind can now grow as many replacement teeth as needed throughout their lifetime. The only question remaining is, what’s the safest, fastest, cheapest way to do it with the highest success rate and the least amount of discomfort or pain to the patient.
Some scientists believe the Chinese may have just built the better mousetrap, so to speak. Others insist that growing anything from urine, especially human body parts, is the worst way to solve the problem of tooth loss. Either way, the fact remains that human beings will most likely be growing their own replacement teeth in the near future and those new teeth may come from their own urine.
How they did it
As detailed in their report, researchers grew what they term tooth-like structures. They began by taking human stem cells obtained from human urine and combined them with tissue from a mouse jaw taken from a mouse embryo. Like a chameleon, stem cells magically take on the form of whatever body part they’re implanted into. With that knowledge, the scientists hoped the human stem cells would produce human tissue. And since it was implanted into a mouse jaw, they gambled that the item grown would be a tooth. And they were right on both hypotheses.
Once the human stem cells were successfully implanted into the mouse jaw material, the tiny package was then implanted into the kidneys of live mice. Using mouse kidneys as growing fields for stem cell experiments is reportedly a common tactic. In fact, past stem cell experiments have accidentally grown teeth, like other experiments that accidentally grew hair. Capitalizing on those accidental findings, scientists are now attempting to do the same thing on purpose and in a controlled environment.
Once implanted into the mouse kidneys, the stem cells and jaw material only took three weeks to grow into a human tooth-like structure. The stem cells had developed into a cyst. And inside each cyst was a small tooth. Researchers admit that their success rate was only 30%. But they were more than encouraged by their results. The teeth they grew were as hard as human teeth and could even be grown to specific sizes and shapes to create the right replacement tooth for future dental patients.
The study’s numerous doctors and scientists explained that after they implanted their seed-like urine-mouse jaw combination into the mouse kidney, the stem cells slowly began erupting like a volcano. And just as volcanic lava can create an entire island, the stem cells secreted enamel, thus creating a tooth.
Ground breaking or useless
Depending on who one asks, the just-released accomplishments of the Chinese researchers is either completely useless or the future of dentistry. The ability of people to grow their own replacement teeth inside their own mouths, from their own stem cells, in a matter of only a few weeks, is admittedly a historic discovery. However, the fact that the stem cells come from each patient’s own urine, and a mouse jaw is required, may be a deal-breaker.
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When asked by CBC News, Canadian Research Chair William Stanford of the University of Ottawa told the outlet that the latest Chinese stem cell success was a step in the right direction. He was mostly referring to the use of human urine to obtain the necessary stem cells. “Who really wants a centimeter squared taken out of them?" he argued. He also suggested that doctors would need to perfect the use of a patient’s mouth as the growing field instead of the commonly used mouse kidney before the practice would become commercially available.
A report from NY Daily News found an expert with an opposing view. Professor Chris Mason of University College in London criticized the use of urine as the source for the required stem cells. He called urine, “one of the worst sources” for obtaining stem cells. “There are very few cells in the first place and the efficiency of turning them into stem cells is very low," Mason said, "You just wouldn't do it this way."
The Chinese researchers’ final report answers that criticism by explaining that stem cells with the ability to grow teeth are extremely rare. “Probably the most important limiting factor is the absence of consistent sources of epithelial stem cells with odontogenic potential in the adult human individual,” they write, “Here, we succeeded in inducing integration-free human urine iPSCs into the intact epithelial sheet, which developed into ameloblasts in a tooth-like structure.” In other words, it’s possible to grow human teeth from human urine, and they did it successfully.
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