for National Geographic News
Someday soon dentists may not just pull teeth and fill cavities. They could also stick entirely new teeth back in your mouth—perhaps by dabbing just a couple of cells in an empty tooth socket.
That is, if recent research pans out.
Scientists in Japan have come up with a controversial method for growing teeth in the lab—and even in adult mice—using a couple of cells from an embryo.
The researchers did the same with mouse whiskers, regenerating them from a single cell.
These teeth and whiskers were implanted into other mice, where they took root and seemed to function normally.
The scientists reported their work this week in the journal Nature Methods.
They focused on teeth and whiskers because they're not essential for the animal's life, so they can be repeatedly removed or implanted in experiments that seek to understand when and how organs can regenerate.
In the long run, however, the researchers hope this line of work will help them create replacements for more necessary organs, such as hearts and kidneys. (Related: "Mice With Human Brain Cells Created" [December 14, 2005].)
Germ of the Matter
Previous groups have had some success with growing teeth in the lab. Their results, however, have been hit-or-miss, said Takashi Tsuji of the Tokyo University of Science.
But he and his colleagues, he said, have developed a method that is "simple, easy, and highly reproducible for many researchers."
The scientists took cells from the mouths of mouse embryos and inserted them into drops of collagen gel, which is similar to the material in the part of the jawbone that surrounds teeth.
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