Japanese scientists have grown an entire tooth from stem cells implanted into the kidney of a mouse.
The US Public Library of Science Journal reports the tooth is fully functional and mature, with bone and ligament around it.
It is thought to be the first time this procedure has been successful. Queensland University of Technology cell biologist Dr David Leavesley says creating a fully functional, complex cell tissue is the vital step scientists have been waiting for.
"(The tooth) is the Golden Fleece, or if you like, is the gold at end of rainbow that we're aiming for," he said.
Tokyo University of Science research team member Professor Takashi Tsuji says he hopes this breakthrough will make the research department a pioneer of taking multiple cells and combining them in a complex way to create parts of the body.
The team grew the tooth from a mouse's stem cells, which were grown inside a drop of collagen, and placed inside a living mouse's kidney. The new tooth was then transplanted successfully into another mouse's jaw.
Dr Leavesley says he is unaware of anyone else having success with this technique.
"No-one else that I'm aware of has been able to transplant a complex organ structure like a tooth, which is not a simple designed organ," he said.
"But more importantly it provides it with those strong connections, the ligaments, which hold it in place."
Dr Leavesley says this procedure was possible because the kidney provided the warmth to incubate the tooth to grow.
"All the kidney's done is provide it with a nice warm, moist environment, with enough food and with a waste disposal system to get rid of the waste products, the toxins that simply growing creates, and so that's what's novel," he said. The success of this procedure is significant on many fronts. In dentistry, it offers an alternative to nerveless artificial teeth, and offers gum replacements for those with corrosive jaw diseases.
Imperial College Structural Ceramics chair Professor Eduardo Saiz says it is an exciting step forward.
"They have been able to recreate in the lab a complete tooth ... that's already a big accomplishment," he said.
The research echoes work by Melbourne scientists who have been growing mammary tissue inside the human body. But because the tooth is more complex in structure than anything grown before, it opens up a range of possibilities.
Professor Tsuji says the ultimate goal is to grow livers and kidneys to relieve the world's shortage of organs for transplants. He hopes to help as many patients as possible by developing the technology further. Dr Leavesley agrees that the breakthrough opens the gate to growing other body parts.
"This is a bony tissue so I would predict that in a few years, and possibly within say 10 years, we can probably transplant, regenerate fingers and toes and perhaps even limbs," he said.
"Ultimately we might even be able to generate eyes."
Professor Tsuji says the procedure's first commercial application will be used to grow hair follicles.
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