Another booth I happened upon last month while visiting the Children with Diabetes conference in Orlando definitely stopped me in my tracks: dental stem cells for diabetes?! Could someone be seriously running a business on this concept when the science is far from mature?
Turns out the Store-A-Toothâ„¢ booth was run by a Provia Laboratories, a Lexington, MA-based outfit offering a new service for preserving the stem cells found in wisdom teeth and baby teeth. The teeth need to be "freshly removed" for the potentially healing stem cells to be extracted. And let's be clear: a service like this is a bet on the future of science. And by no means a sure bet. It's an expensive service offered to parents of children with various conditions, including type 1 diabetes, that may or may not pay off years from now in the use of the patient's own dental stem cells for cell regeneration. You guessed it: they're hoping for possible re-growth of healthy pancreas cells.
According to the company's website, dental stem cells differ from cord blood stem cells (also popular to have banked for future treatments) in that the dental stem cells "are able to regenerate solid tissue types that cord blood cannot — such as potentially repairing connective tissues, dental tissues, neuronal tissue and bone." Wow.
Dr. Howard Greenman, CEO of Provia Laboratories and President of Store-A-Tooth, shared some information about the preliminary research going on in the field of dental stem cells:
So what are dental stem cells? Dental stem cells are adult stem cells (not embryonic stem cells) found in both baby teeth and wisdom teeth. Since being discovered 10 years ago, they have been shown to differentiate into bone, dental tissue, cartilage, and muscle. Although dental stem cells have not yet been used to treat diabetes, researchers believe they have promising capabilities.
"We want to be extremely clear that at this point, parents who choose to preserve their children's dental stem cells should understand that this is an investment in the future," Dr. Greenman explains. "While research is progressing at a very rapid rate, we are only just starting to see the use of dental stem cells in humans for bone regeneration and periodontal disease."
Part of the reason the company chose to exhibit at the CWD conference: dental stem cells have recently been shown to have some key features in common with other mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that make them exciting candidates for possible use in diabetes therapy. Many studies are now exploring the use of MSCs, from a variety of other tissues, to treat type 1 diabetes. MSCs from bone marrow are being studied in a Phase II human clinical trial, supported by the JDRF, with the goal to halt or reverse the autoimmune attack that causes type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Greenman says, "Many parents of type 1 diabetics tell us they are frustrated by the fact that they missed the opportunity to preserve their child's cord blood stem cells. At the time of their children's birth, they obviously did not know their child would be diabetic and thus, many chose not to make the investment. Although dental stem cells are different than cord blood stem cells, these parents now have an opportunity to ensure their family can have access to a genetically matched source of stem cells for their family's future."
Of course, Store-A-Tooth is hardly just for pennies. Two pricing options are available:
- Standard service is $649 for tooth collection and processing, plus $120 per year to keep the tissue cryopreserved.
- A 20-year plan for a one-time fee of $2399, which also includes the ability to preserve an additional collection of dental stem cells (either from the same child or a different family member) for no additional charge.
Numerous applications for dental stem cells are still being discovered, including possible treatment of later-stage diabetes complications like cardiovascular disease, periodontal disease, nerve damage, etc. Research results thus far include:
- The ability for dental stem cells to induce nerve regeneration and differentiate into neurons has been shown by a group at the University of Adelaide in Australia
- In Spain, researchers showed dental stem cells can improve cardiovascular function in rats after heart attack.
- Cells found in the periodontal ligament have successfully been used to treat bone loss associated with periodontal disease.
- Researchers in Italy successfully used stem cells from dental pulp to repair bone loss in humans.
So it's worth a thought before you let the Tooth Fairy fly off and pack those baby teeth in cotton. You can learn more about dental stem cells and the Store-A-Tooth system by visiting this handy FAQ section on their website.