As medical research advances, there's a growing appreciation of what stem cells can do. These early cells haven't changed much since birth. Different types of stem cells can turn into different parts of the body. The most versatile stem cells can turn into any cell of the body. It's already possible to grow these cells to large numbers in the laboratory.
Researchers are on the verge of being able to use stem cells in the brain, pancreas, heart, and other organs to repair damage caused by disease. The big problem is where to get the cells. There's already interest in harvesting stem cells from a baby's umbilical cord and storing them away as an insurance policy against future disease or injury.
Now it looks as though there's another source of these precious cells. Maybe the tooth fairy knew it all along. But it took a research team lead by Songtao Shi, DDS, PhD, to find out her secret. They report their findings in the April 21 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Shi and colleagues a the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research knew that one kind of stem cell lives inside adult teeth. They reasoned that a different kind of stem cell might live in baby teeth. So they collected newly shed baby teeth from 7- and 8-year-old kids. Inside the teeth, they found what they were looking for.
The stem cells they found "are completely different from previously identified stem cells," Shi and colleagues write. "[Shed] teeth may be an unexpected, unique resource for stem-cell therapies."
The researchers say baby teeth stem cells in baby teeth grow faster and more numerous that adult teeth stem cells.
Shi's team calls the new cells SHED, for "stem cells from human exfoliated deciduous teeth."