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Stem cells have been buzzwords in the medical industry for many years now, but little has been said about the dentist's role in regards to storing stem cell tissue for future use. What do dentists have to do with stem cells? They may provide a patient's last chance to bank potentially life-saving tissue.
What stem cells do
Simply stated, stem cells keep us alive. Various types of adult stem cells have been identified in many organs and tissues. They range from cells that are able to form many different kinds of tissues to more specialized cells that form just some of the cells of a particular tissue or organ. Mesenchymal stem cells, the type found in dental pulp, for example, are adult stem cells that form fat cells, cartilage, bone, tendon, ligaments, muscle cells, skin cells and even nerve cells. In contrast, hematopoietic stem cells give rise to blood cells only (red cells, white cells and platelets).
Stem cells replace and repair the damage done to our bodies through misadventure and age; they help us recuperate from scrapes and cuts, broken bones, organ and muscle damage, and even disease. And even though our stem cells are also self-renewing, they age as well, and as they age they become less efficient and less effective, healing becomes slower, and disease is able to proliferate.
Ours versus theirs
Not all stem cells are created equal when it comes to our body’s system of repair; utilizing our own (autologous) stem cells for healing obviously has distinct advantages over donor (allogeneic) cells. Like any other donor tissue, out body will reject donor stem cells, and treatments using donor cells require physically distressing and risky immunosuppressant therapies such as chemotherapy during the stem cell procedures. Having access to our own stem cells available for treatments can alleviate the need for these therapies.
What’s happening already
We are now realizing many of the potential benefits of using autologous stem cell therapies for treating injury and disease.
In September, a team of eye specialists led by ophthalmologist Yasuo Kurimoto implanted a 1.3 by 3.0 millimeter sheet of retinal pigment epithelium cells into the eye of an elderly female patient at the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation in Kobe, Japan. This patient suffers from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of visual impairment in the elderly. AMD is characterized by gradual damage to the retinal pigment epithelium, a protective layer of cells adjacent to the photoreceptors of the retina. In order to potentially mitigate the effects of AMD, Dr. Masayo Takahashi reprogrammed cells from the patient’s own skin to produce pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), Pluripotent stem cells are able to differentiate into any type of cell in the body, so Dr. Takahashi coaxed these cells to differentiate into retinal pigment epithelium cells for implantation.
Darek Fidyka was paralyzed from the chest down following a knife attack in 2010, but can now walk using a frame after receiving treatment in which nerve cells from his nose were transplanted into his severed spinal column.
“When there’s nothing, you can’t feel almost half of your body. You’re helpless, lost,” the patient, who is now recovering at the Akron Neuro-Rehabilitation Center in Wroclaw, told BBC’s Panorama program. “When it begins to come back, you feel you’ve started your life all over again, as if you are reborn. It’s an incredible feeling, difficult to describe,” he said.
Storing our own stem cells now while we are younger and healthy may provide all of us this same sort of opportunity for personalized regenerative medicine in the future. Utilizing our own stored tissue to culture stem cells for treatments to fight disease, speed healing and even stave off aging represents a paradigm shift in medicine.
Next page: Why the dental professional may be the family's most important doctor when it comes to stem cells storage.
Storage opportunities are rare
A few natural opportunities arise when we’re young to collect and store our own stem cell tissue, but they are few and far between. For this very reason, in many states it is legally mandated that parents be informed of the benefits of storing cord blood and cord tissue when they are expecting a child. However, even though more and more parents are taking advantage of the opportunity to store the cord blood of their newborn, most parents do not. Less than 6% of all parents bank their child’s cord blood and an even smaller percentage store the cord tissue.
The dental professional may be the family’s most important doctor
Later, many parents who passed on banking cord material when their child was born often feel that they’ve missed a crucial opportunity to assure the safety and wellbeing of their child. The next occasion that typically presents itself is when the child loses their deciduous teeth, or have their wisdom teeth extracted. This opportunity makes the dental professional the family’s most important doctor. Parents may not get another chance to bank this potentially lifesaving tissue without their child going through an invasive, expensive, often painful procedure to collect tissue from marrow or adipose tissue.
Recognition of this crucial role within the dental industry
Professional organizations within the dental community are recognizing the important role their members will play in health and well-being of their patients, not just for dental procedures, but for the rest of their lives. “The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recognizes the emerging field of regenerative medicine and encourages dentists to follow future evidence-based literature in order to educate parents about the collection, storage, viability, and use of dental stem cells with respect to autologous regenerative therapies. As the technology continues to evolve, the process of procurement of dental stems cells should be accomplished only with deliberate integrity and appropriate informed consent to assure the highest ethical standards and quality of outcomes.”
Patients should know their options
Most dental patients have no idea this sort of service even exists, but companies like Vault Stem Cell are dedicated to helping educate patients and provide services for the entire dental office process; from educational material for patients so they can make an informed decision, to collection kits and transportation for the collected tissue, to processing and storage of dental tissue and stem cells. They provide a system for safe, simple stem cell collection and storage for patients with minimal, if any, impact on the intake process or dental procedure.