for National Geographic News
Dental pulp from wisdom teeth could be a new source of therapeutic stem cells, Japanese researchers announced recently.
Like embryonic stem cells, the new cells—known as mesenchymal stem cells—are capable of developing into a variety of tissues, including bone, cartilage, and fat. These new lines of stem cells can be created without the use of an embryo—possibly sidestepping controversy.
In many countries adults routinely get minor surgeries to remove wisdom teeth.
"The [wisdom] tooth is usually discarded into trash, so there are no ethical concerns," said Hajime Ohgushi, principal research scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in the Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.
However, unlike embryonic stem cells, the newfound cells cannot morph into almost any type of cell in the body.
(Related: "Stem Cell Breakthrough: No More Need to Destroy Embryos?" [August 23, 2005.])
The new research has also not been published or vetted by other scientists in the field.
Work on embryonic stem cells has long been mired in controversy.
The cells could lead to breakthroughs in regenerative medicine by allowing certain tissues and diseased organs to be replaced.
But harvesting the cells typically requires the destruction of an embryo, which critics equate with the taking of a life.
Since 2001 the United States government has restricted public funding to a limited number of embryonic stem cell lines, a move many U.S. scientists say has stifled their work.
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