Scientists who report in the Journal of Dental Research (JDR) that stem cells from teeth can be transformed into cells that produce insulin in a glucose-dependent manner—a significant step toward developing stem-cell therapies for diabetes.

The finding is particularly important for type 1 diabetes, which results from a failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin, the hormone that plays a vital role in the use of glucose (blood sugar) in the body. In the United States alone, the CDC estimates that nearly one million people have type 1 diabetes, with more than 15,000 children and teenagers newly diagnosed each year. Intensive research is under way to determine whether insulin-producing cells derived from stem cells might one day be used as part of a cure for type 1 diabetes.

“This work is further evidence that research into medical as well as dental applications of stem cells from teeth, though early, is steadily progressing toward what we believe will be a new generation of therapies for conditions that impact millions of Americans. We are pleased to see dental stem cell research aimed at one of the most serious diseases affecting young people: type 1 diabetes,” said Peter Verlander, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of Provia Laboratories, LLC.

Provia is the provider of Store-A-Tooth, a service that enables parents to preserve stem cells from their children’s teeth, allowing families to take advantage of future medical breakthroughs from stem cell research.

In 2000, scientists from the National Institutes of Healthfirst reported isolating stem cells from dental pulp. In 2009, it was shown that stem cells from periodontal ligament could produce insulin. The new research takes the next step: showing that stem cells from teeth can be used to generate cells that secrete insulin in a glucose-dependent manner; that is, when exposed to more glucose, the cells produced more insulin.

According to the paper in the JDR, scientists at Stempeutics Research Malaysia and the University of Malaya isolated stem cells from deciduous molars (baby teeth). These teeth were extracted as part of routine dental care, for the management of occlusion (crowded teeth). The scientists then cultured these dental stem cells under conditions that led the cells to turn into islet-like cell aggregates like those in the pancreas that secrete insulin.

The authors of the paper comment, “(We) anticipate that our finding will create a benchmark toward cell replacement for type 1 diabetes… by autologous transplantation of islet-like cell aggregates (ICAs) differentiated from a patient’s own teeth.”

Today, standard treatment for type 1 diabetes (also called insulin-dependent or juvenile-onset diabetes) includes frequent blood glucose monitoring and daily insulin injections or use of insulin pumps. Looking forward, doctors are focusing on ways to cure the disease, such as by transplantation of pancreatic islet cells from a donor, but this approach is often hindered by a shortage of donor organs and by potential side effects caused by immunosuppressive drugs needed to prevent transplant rejection. If the dental stem cells of a patient had been preserved, both of these problems might be resolved: the cells of the patient could be used to generate islets for autologous transplantation (meaning tissues are used from the same individual, not a donor, eliminating the need for immunosuppressive drugs).

As the authors of the paper in the JDR note, limitations with donor transplants have led to a search for alternative cell-replacement therapies. They comment that dental stem cells “are considered to be an appealing source” because “they are non-controversial, readily accessible, have a large donor pool, and pose no risk of discomfort for the donor.” Every person typically loses 20 baby teeth, each of which can provide a source of stem cells.

Source: Store-A-Tooth Press Release

Originally posted by on March 23, 2011.