Two recent reports are very interesting in the light of the current debate over health care and who'll pay for it.
The first comes from Japan, where it's reported that a team of doctors and scientists have succeeded in using stem cells to regrow teeth in mice.
Scientists have made teeth from stem cells in a world first that could make dentures a thing of the past.
They looked like normal teeth, were sensitive to pain and chewed food easily.
While the experiments were on mice, they pave the way for people to 'grow their own teeth' as required.
The technique could also be adapted to other organs, allowing hearts, lungs and kidneys to be grown inside the body to replace parts worn by age or damaged by disease.
The Japanese study focused on stem cells - 'master cells' with the ability to turn into other cell types.
The researchers from the Tokyo University of Science identified two types of stem cell, which together contain all the instructions for a fully grown tooth.
. . .
The cells used were take from mouse embryos, but the researchers believe it should be possible to make teeth from other types of cell as well.
They are now looking for suitable cells in people. Possibilities include skin cells and cells from the pulp inside teeth.
They also have to work out how to control the size of the bio-engineered teeth, as those grown in the experiments were slightly smaller than usual.
The process would also have to be speeded up if it was to be used on people as human teeth take years to form.
However, the pioneering technology could one day allow those with teeth missing to fill the gaps in their smile without having to resort to false teeth, bridges or synthetic implants.
. . .
The technology is still at a very early stage and the Japanese researchers believe it will not be widely used by dentists for at least 15 years. Despite this, British experts said it was an important landmark.
. . .
The technique of creating cell 'buds' could be applied more widely to grow other organs, such as hearts, kidneys and livers, inside the body.
Lead researcher Professor Takashi Tsuji said: 'The ultimate goal of regenerative therapy is to develop fully-functioning bioengineered organs that can replace lost or damaged organs following disease, injury or ageing.
'Our study makes a substantial contribution to the development of bio- engineering technology for future organ replacement therapy.'
There's more at the link.
The second report is from closer to home. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is looking for ways to use stem cells to rapidly repair battlefield wounds and injuries.
In 2006, Darpa launched an ambitious Restorative Injury Repair program, that aims to “fully repair” body parts damaged by traumatic injury.
Earlier this year, researchers funded by that program generated new human muscle that could replace damaged tissue. Now Darpa’s asking for a device that can use adult stem cells for a regenerative free-for-all, pumping out whatever needed to repair injured body parts, including nerves, bone and skin. Already, research has proven that adult stem cells can act the same way embryonic ones do - differentiating into the highly-specified cells that form complex body parts.
According to Darpa’s solicitation, 85 percent of recent wartime injuries involved damage to the extremities and facial regions. That often means multiple surgeries, rehab and permanent disability for vets. They’re hoping to eliminate the injuries, and their long-term consequences, with a system that can reproduce in vitro tissues with the same structural and mechanical properties of the real stuff. And maybe make better versions: Darpa wants implanted results that will “replace, restore or improve tissue/organ function.”
Phase II of the project will see animal testing of the most promising systems. And Darpa foresees eventual use by military and civilian populations.
Again, there's more at the link.
All very interesting, and very promising for the future. I'm probably a bit too old to take advantage of the real fruits of this research, twenty to thirty years down the road, but those now in their twenties and thirties may find their old age considerably more comfortable.
Of course, this presumes that Obamacare won't have taken over our medical institutions, so that only card-carrying Democrats who are both union members and ACORN volunteers are permitted access to these therapies . . .