Harvesting stem cells from dental pulp
A company in Miami is doing its best to put the tooth fairy out of business.
GeneCell International has been in the business of preservation of umbilical cord blood, one of the first stem cell sources to be privately banked, for the past three years. Now GeneCell has taken the next step, adding dental pulp storage to its repertoire.
Dental pulp is new to the stem cell scene. Having the uncanny ability to regenerate other cells within the body, dental pulp stem cells can replicate bone, muscle, nerve, cartilage and fat cells. It is living tissue, found deep inside the center of the tooth, and everyone has it.
The pulp can be harvested from children's "baby" teeth, adolescent molars that have been removed, or teeth that have been extracted to make way for braces. Pulp can also be taken from adult teeth during a pulpotomy procedure in a dentist's office.
The technology was only developed about 12 years ago, said Jose Cirino, GeneCell's director of operations. Its use is currently in clinical trials and Cirino is hoping for FDA approval within the next five to seven years. "There have been successful applications of dental pulp stem cell treatment outside of the United States," he said.
GeneCell is one of three companies in the United States that offer the storage service, Cirino said.
The process of harvesting and storing is easy. When a child has a loose tooth, it needs to be extracted by dentist so the live nerves are left intact. Then it is placed in a special collection bottle provided by GeneCell.
Once it is sent to the lab, technicians will crack the tooth open, extract the pulp, and process it for storage. A cryoprotectant is added and it is stored in vial placed in liquid nitrogen. Cooling is a gradual process to zero degrees Fahrenheit then minus 20, minus 80 -- all the way down to minus 321 degrees.
Cirino said educating the public about the use of cord blood and dental pulp stem cells is a major goal. He is concerned about the confusion of the general public with regard to stem cell research and applications.
"People usually think of embryonic stem cells." he said. "What we do is noncontroversial, noninvasive and could save the life and the future of a loved one." The stored stem cells can help not only the donor, but in many cases other family members as well.
"Imagine, research shows that this technology has the potential of slowing down the progression of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases and treat other diseases like type I diabetes, heart attack, stroke, multiple sclerosis, ALS (and) spinal injury," Cirino said.