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Body’s Own Stem Cells Can Lead to Tooth Regeneration

NEW YORK (May 19, 2010) - A technique pioneered in the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory of Dr. Jeremy Mao, the Edward V. Zegarelli Professor of Dental Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, can orchestrate stem cells to migrate to a three-dimensional scaffold infused with growth factor, holding the translational potential to yield an anatomically correct tooth in as soon as nine weeks once implanted.

People who have lost some or all of their adult teeth typically look to dentures, or, more recently, dental implants to improve a toothless appearance that can have a host of unsettling psycho-social ramifications. Despite being the preferred (but generally painful and potentially protracted) treatment for missing teeth nowadays, dental implants can fail and are unable to “remodel” with surrounding jaw bone that undergoes necessary changes throughout a person’s life.

An animal-model study has shown that by homing stem cells to a scaffold made of natural materials and integrated in surrounding tissue, there is no need to use harvested stem cell lines, or create an environment outside of the body (e.g., a Petri dish) where the tooth is grown and then implanted once it has matured. The tooth instead can be grown “orthotopically,” or in the socket where the tooth will integrate with surrounding tissue in ways that are impossible with hard metals or other materials.

"These findings represent the first report of regeneration of anatomically shaped tooth-like structures in vivo, and by cell homing without cell delivery,” Dr. Mao and his colleagues say in the paper. "The potency of cell homing is substantiated not only by cell recruitment into scaffold microchannels, but also by the regeneration of periodontal ligaments and newly formed alveolar bone."

This study is published in the most recent Journal of Dental Research, the top-rated, peer-reviewed scientific journal dedicated to the dissemination of new knowledge and information on all sciences relevant to dentistry, the oral cavity and associated structures in health and disease.

Dental implants usually consist of a cone-shaped titanium screw with a roughened or smooth surface and are placed in the jaw bone. While implant surgery may be performed as an outpatient procedure, healing times vary widely and successful implantation is a result of multiple visits to different clinicians, including general dentists, oral surgeons, prosthodontists and periodontists. Implant patients must allow two to six months for healing and if the implant is installed too soon, it is possible that the implant may fail. The subsequent time to heal, graft and eventually put into place a new implant may take up to 18 months.

The work of Dr. Mao and his laboratory, however, holds manifold promise: a more natural process, faster recovery times and a harnessing of the body’s own potential to re-grow tissue that will not give out and could ultimately last the patient’s lifetime.

“A key consideration in tooth regeneration is finding a cost-effective approach that can translate into therapies for patients who cannot afford or who aren’t good candidates for dental implants,” Dr. Mao says. “Cell-homing-based tooth regeneration may provide a tangible pathway toward clinical translation.”

Dr. Ira B. Lamster, dean of the College of Dental Medicine, stated: “This research provides an example of what is achievable when today’s biology is applied to common clinical problems. Dr. Mao’s research is a look into the future of dental medicine.”

This research was supported by NIH ARRA Funding via 5RC2 DE020767 from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Columbia has filed patent applications relating to the engineered tooth and, through its technology transfer office, Columbia Technology Ventures, is actively seeking partners to help commercialize the technology.

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Columbia University College of Dental Medicine (CDM) was established in 1916 as the School of Dental and Oral Surgery, when the School became incorporated into Columbia University. The College’s mission has evolved into a tripartite commitment to education, patient care, and research. The mission of the College of Dental Medicine is to train general dentists, dental specialists, and dental assistants in a setting that emphasizes comprehensive dental care delivery and stimulates professional growth; inspire, support, and promote faculty, pre- and postdoctoral student, and hospital resident participation in research to advance the professional knowledge base; and provide comprehensive dental care for the underserved community of northern Manhattan. For more information, please visit: http://dental.columbia.edu/.

About Columbia Technology Ventures: A leading academic and research university, Columbia University continually seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to foster a campus community deeply engaged in understanding and addressing the complex global issues of our time. Columbia University's technology transfer office, Columbia Technology Ventures, manages Columbia’s intellectual property portfolio and serves as the university’s gateway for companies and entrepreneurs seeking novel technology solutions. Our core mission is to facilitate the transfer of inventions from academic research to outside organizations for the benefit of society on a local, national and global basis. For more information on Columbia Technology Ventures, please visit www.techventures.columbia.edu.

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree and is now among the most selective medical schools in the country. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the most comprehensive medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest in the United States. Columbia University Medical Center is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the nation’s largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital provider. For more information, please visit www.cumc.columbia.edu.

For media inquiries, please contact Margy Elliott at 212-342-4198 or techtransfer@columbia.edu.