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(5/5/04 11:43 am)
Lose A Tooth? grow another
Lose A Tooth?
Just Grow A New One!
Channel News Asia

LONDON (AFP) -- Fake teeth, denture glue and sucking on bald gums may soon become a thing of the past, say a group of British scientists working on a procedure that makes teeth grow from stem cells implanted in the gum.

The scientists at King's College, London announced Monday they had made a breakthrough in mice, coaxing stem cells to grow into teeth within only a few weeks.

The procedure entails taking stem cells from a living being, nurturing them in a laboratory until they form a ball of new cells known as a bud, and inserting the bud into the gum where the new tooth is needed.

The researchers estimate human teeth in adults could take about two months to develop fully.

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the potential to grow into other kinds of cells in the body, and are often used in biological research.

The college has set up a private company, Odontis, to develop the venture, and was given a start-up grant of 500,000 pounds (750,000 euros, 895,000 dollars) to work toward a commercial product for humans, the BBC reported.

Testing on humans could begin in about two years.

"There is no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same," Paul Sharpe, a specialist in the field of regenerative dentistry and the developer of the technique, told the Guardian newspaper.

If proven successful, the procedure could be a boon for Britain, where people over 50 lose on average 12 of their 32 teeth.

Sharpe says the procedure could have advantages over false teeth that require a metal post to be driven into the jaw.

"That surgery can be extensive and you need to have good solid bone in the jaw and that's a major problem for some people," said Sharpe.

"The new method could be used on far more patients because the ball of cells that grows into a tooth also produces bone that anchors to the jaw."

In what is expected to be a simple procedure, the new method will require only a local anaesthetic.

The cost of growing a real tooth should also be no more than that of a synthetic implant, between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds (2,226-2,969 euros, 2,657-3,544 dollars).

But gap-toothed Britons will have to wait to fill their smile.

The optimistic scientists say they hope to make the technology available to the general public within five years.

"A key advantage of our technology is that a living tooth can preserve the health of the surrounding tissues much better than an artificial prosthesis," Sharpe told the BBC.

"Teeth are living, and they are able to respond to a person's bite."

Copyright © 104 MCN International Pte Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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