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What Are Dental Pulp Stem Cells?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Dental pulp stem cells are multipotent stem cells found within the soft dental pulp inside the teeth. They are capable of differentiating into several different adult cell types, and in addition to growing into cells associated with the teeth, they can be cultured to grow other kinds of soft tissue and specialized cells. This means they have tremendous applications in treatment as a source of human stem cells that could be used to grow various kinds of tissue for repair of damage and management of disease. Studies involving dental pulp stem cells conducted in the early 21st century showed a wide range of applications.

In the course of normal dental development, these cells need to be able to develop into dentin, cementum, enamel, and pulp, all of which are associated with the teeth. This allows for some repair of these tissues in the wake of injury and infection to maintain oral health and the function of the teeth. Examination of dental pulp stem cells revealed they appear to have the ability to develop into cell types beyond those found in the teeth..

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Early in human development, these cells need to be able to produce structures like blood vessels and nerves as the teeth and related connections form. They appear to retain this ability, as research in the lab indicates. Dental pulp stem cells can be used to grow functioning neurons, bone cells, fat, muscle tissue, and other forms of connective tissue. Patients with spinal cord injuries, for example, can potentially be treated with dental pulp stem cells to restore connections and function. Preliminary studies on rats showed this was theoretically possible, laying the groundwork for human studies.

As of 2012, these cells were identified as multipotent, which means they can grow into several cell types but not every single type of cell in the body. Very few cells are totipotent, or having the ability to grow into any kind of tissue; these are usually found very early in embroyonic development when cells are replicating and dividing before they start to differentiate and form the fetus. For research, totipotent cells are extremely valuable because they can be cultured into any tissue type.

Human stem cell research is of interest in a number of medical fields, whether doctors want to be able to offer treatment like grown organs for transplant or repairs for neurological damage. Finding reliable sources of stem cells can be challenging due to legal and ethical restrictions. Harvesting dental pulp stem cells is a potential method that wouldn’t violate restrictions on sources and would provide ample material for research and development.

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