For many years, tissue engineers have long toyed with the idea of using synthetic materials to create properties seen in a developing embryo. Don Ingber, the Director of the Wyss Institute at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have been looking into a new kind of process, called mesenchymal condensation, to develop teeth. Developing embryos use this process to form different organs, including teeth, cartilage and bone.
By examining tissues from the jaws of embryonic mice, the researchers demonstrated that when compressed mesenchymal cells are turned on, these cells are stimulated to generate whole teeth, including dentin and enamel. Ingber and his colleagues are looking into ways artificially engineer a tissue-friendly material that will act in the same manner as these developing embryos.
The scientists are looking for a sponge-like gel that would allow mesenchymal cells to be packed into it. These researchers have been successful at developing a polymer where cells are able to stick to it, and can readily compress when warmed by body temperature.
In their preliminary experiments, the scientists were able to load mesenchymal cells into the gel and, in order to demonstrate that teeth can readily form, they implanted the gel into a mouse kidney capsule. These implanted cells started to express tooth-development genes, just like mesenchymal cells naturally do when they start forming teeth.
This incredible research opens new doors for future studies to look into other materials that can be used to create teeth. Hopefully with more progress, we’ll potentially be able to replace missing teeth with real teeth!
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