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Look after your teeth! Dental pulp stem cells and potential stroke therapy
There is currently widespread interest in the potential of dental pulp stem cells from teeth as a source of neurons for treatment of stroke and traumatic brain injury. In order to make this a reality, a mouse model of neural stem cell transplantation would be a very useful pre-clinical tool. A research team from the University of Adelaide in Australia have developed a system for culturing murine dental pulp stem cells in conditions in which they developed into networks of neuron-like cells. The study is published in the journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy.

A stroke is the result of damage to blood vessels carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain which causes interruption of blood supply to part of the brain. This can result in damage to or destruction of brain cells (neurons) that control body functions such as movement, ability to speak or mental processes. Dr Kylie Ellis, lead author on the current study explains why new therapies are needed to help victims of stroke: "The reality is, treatment options available to the thousands of stroke patients every year are limited….The primary drug treatment available must be administered within hours of a stroke and many people don't have access within that timeframe, because they often can't seek help for some time after the attack.”

Use of dental pulp stem cells for generation of neurons for brain transplantation would have several advantages. According to Dr Ellis, a major one would be that they can be derived from the patient themselves “for tailor-made brain therapy that doesn't have the host rejection issues commonly associated with cell-based therapies.” Another advantage is that the dental pulp offers an on-going source of stem cells that could be harvested for treatment months or even years after the stroke.

In the current study, the research team investigated the neuronal potential of mouse dental pulp stem cells in an effort to advance the development of a mouse model for neural stem cell transplantation. They developed culturing conditions for mouse dental pulp stem cells that would encourage differentiation of the cells to neurons. On examining the proteins expressed by the cells under these conditions, the researchers found that they expressed biomarkers typical of neurons. In addition, the cells grew in networks resembling those of brain cells. Dr Ellis explains that there is still work to do but that the results are promising: "What we developed wasn't identical to normal neurons, but the new cells shared very similar properties to neurons. They also formed complex networks and communicated through simple electrical activity, like you might see between cells in the developing brain."

The potential of this type of work on dental pulp stem cells is enormous for modelling stroke and other brain disorders and carrying out pre-clinical studies to allow development of revolutionary new treatments and techniques for patients.

Ellis, K. et al. (2014). Neurogenic potential of dental pulp stem cells isolated from murine incisors. Stem Cell Research & Therapy 5: 30 doi:10.1186/scrt419

Press release: University of Adelaide; available at [Accessed 1 May 2014].
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