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article imageAlligators offer clues for tooth regeneration

By Tim Sandle     May 17, 2013 in Science
New research suggests that studying alligators could help scientists learn how to stimulate tooth regeneration in people.
Researchers have uncovered unique cellular and molecular mechanisms behind tooth renewal in American alligators. Alligators are capable of lifelong tooth renewal. This finding could be the basis for helping people to regrow teeth.
People only have two sets of teeth: baby teeth and adult teeth. If the adult teeth fall out or decay they cannot be regrown. One scientific aim is to identify the stem cells that can be used as a resource to stimulate tooth renewal in adult humans who have lost teeth.
According to the research brief, using microscopic imaging techniques, the researchers found that each alligator tooth is a complex unit of three components: a functional tooth, a replacement tooth, and the dental lamina. Essentially, the scientists took snapshots of alligator teeth as the teeth cycled through stages of growth.
On closer study it was found that the dental lamina is likely to contain stem cells that help the alligator to regrow teeth. From this starting point, researchers hope to apply the principles to regenerative medicine to people.
The research was undertaken at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in an article titled “Specialized stem cell niche enables repetitive renewal of alligator teeth.”
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