A team of British researchers have successfully grown a tooth from human gum tissue -- which might make false teeth a thing of the past.
The scientists, from King's College London, took human epithelial cells from the gums of volunteers, cultured them in the lab to grow a larger sample, then mixed them with mesenchyme cells from mice which effectively told the epithelial cells what to grown into.
The cells were then transplanted into mice, and grown into hybrid human-mice teeth, which had viable roots as well as the hard structure that we're familiar with. The results are published in the Journal of Dental Research. Prof Paul Sharpe, one of the researchers, explained to the BBC:
"This advance here is we have identified a cell population you could envisage using in the clinic. We are now working to try and identify a simple way of getting mesenchyme. The next major challenge is to identify a way to culture adult human mesenchymal cells to be tooth-inducing, as at the moment we can only make embryonic mesenchymal cells do this."
The obvious long-term goal is to develop the science into a technique which is both reliable and affordable enough to become a replacement for regular dental implants. The researchers think that could be "feasible within the next 10 to 15 years" though -- so better try and keep possession of your originals for a while longer. [Journal of Dental Research via BBC]