Dental enamel is the hardest tissue produced by the body. It cannot regenerate itself, because it is formed by a layer of cells that is lost by the time the tooth appears in the mouth. The enamel spends the remainder of its lifetime vulnerable to wear, damage, and decay. For this reason, it is exciting to consider the prospect of artificially growing enamel, or even whole teeth, using culturing and transplantation techniques. In the emergent field of tooth-tissue engineering, several groups have developed their own approaches. Although there has been some success in producing enamel-like and tooth-like tissues, problems remain to be solved before the technology comes close to being tested in humans. One of the issues has been how to produce, in culture, sufficient numbers of enamel-forming cells.
Today, during the 85thth General Session of the International Association for Dental Research, a team of researchers from the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo (Japan), reports on a new technique for culturing cells that have the capacity to produce enamel. This group has recently shown that epithelial cells extracted from the developing teeth of 6-month-old pigs continue to proliferate when they are cultured on top of a special feeder layer of cells (the feeder-layer cells are known as the 3T3-J2 cell line). This crucial step boosts the number of dental epithelial cells available for enamel production. In the study being reported today, the researchers seeded the cultured dental epithelial cells onto collagen sponge scaffolds, along with cells from the middle of the tooth (dental mesenchymal cells). The scaffolds were then transferred into the abdominal cavities of rats, where conditions were favorable for the cells in the scaffolds to interact and develop. When removed after 4 weeks, the remnants of the scaffolds were found to contain enamel-like tissue. The key finding of this study was that even after the multiple divisions that occurred
Contact: Linda Hemphill
International & American Association for Dental Research