Now our diet is softer and the size of our jaws has reduced, our wisdom teeth are considered nothing more than an inconvenience. But scientists may have found a new use for them and other discarded teeth, in a study that demonstrates they can treat corneal scarring and even reverse blindness.
Some believe they are ‘the windows to the soul’, or that they can tell if someone is lying by looking deep into them, but whatever you think about our eyes, there’s no denying they’re one of the most complex and precious parts of the human body.
The two globular organs that allow us to see are often taken for granted in our daily life. When our vision is good, we don’t even have to think about them. In the background, our eyes are doing the hard work, collecting light from the surrounding environment, regulating its intensity, focusing it through an intricate system of lenses, and placing it as an inverted image on the back of our retina. Our eyes transmit this information through a complex set of neural pathways to the brain, where it is finally converted, flipped, and developed into a coherent and crisp view of the world.
Unfortunately, this process doesn’t go according to plan. For many people, this is due to problems with the cornea.
The cornea is the delicate sheath of tissue on the surface of the eye. It can withstand and deal with minor injuries or scratches, but after more severe trauma it can fail to recover and thus lead to permanent vision loss.
The cornea is also susceptible to conditions such as keratoconus, a progressive thinning of the cornea, and Fuchs’ dystrophy, caused by the gradual death of cells in the outer surface of the cornea.
In serious cases, afflictions of the cornea can lead to total blindness, for which the only course of treatment is replacing the cornea via a corneal transplant. However, a shortage of suitable donors for cornea transplants along with the chance of tissue transplant rejection can complicate the issue further, and often leave patients without a viable course of action.
Stem cells have a tendency to make what seems to be a difficult or even impossible to treat condition merely a case of having an injection or two. And in this case, it’s no different.
Regenerating the damaged eye with our teeth
In the study published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, ophthalmologists extracted stem cells from dental pulp of a routine wisdom tooth and developed them into keratocytes – stromal cells responsible for structure in the cornea.
The team then injected the cells into the corneas of healthy mice and reported positive results and no signs of complications, suggesting they present much potential for clinical application.
Lead author Fatima Syed-Picard, an ophthalmology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, conveyed her confidence in the treatment and explained how tooth stem cells can give rise to neural, bone, and other cells, and be used in a wide range of regenerative therapies.
Senior investigator James Funderburgh, who is also an ophthalmology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, touches on the problems of using donor stem cells for treatments and the amazing advantages tooth stem cells offer patients:
“Our work is promising… because using the patient’s own cells for treatment could help us avoid these problems.”
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