Photo: Dey Alexander (Flickr)
Wisdom teeth can be a nuisance. They may have once served a purpose way back in human prehistory…but today many people simply get rid of them.
According to one study, though, wisdom teeth may be more useful than we realize at least when it comes to stem cell research.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stems cells are blank slate like cells that under certain conditions can morph into any number of different cell types found in the body. In theory, stem cells may be useful as a way to treat some diseases.
But for reasons both political and technical, human stem cells are not always easy to come by.
In 2006, scientists discovered that manipulating genes in regular adult cells can turn them into something resembling stem cells. The process is not simple, however, and doesn’t work well with skin cells, which are the most readily available.
The gene manipulation procedure does appear to work in cells taken from the pulpy tissue of extracted wisdom teeth.
Working On Wisdom Teeth
Scientists in Japan working with wisdom teeth from three donors were able to create several stem cell lines. In the lab, many of the cells thrived and responded readily when the researchers prodded them to turn into different cell types.
It may even be possible to freeze and store wisdom teeth to use years later if the donor needs an infusion of stem cells.
More research needs to be done before stem cells harvested from wisdom teeth would have a significant real world impact. But the promising early results suggest that wisdom teeth may become quite useful after all.
A smart use for wisdom teeth: Making stem cells (EurekAlert)