Teeth as a Form of Health Insurance
The Chronicle, March 18, 2009
In Mid Cheshire, England, young women with toddlers are being taught to consider their children's teeth as a form of family "medical insurance". For £950 (approximately 1,400 U.S. dollars), the company Bio-Eden will store a tooth's soft pulp, which contains a plentiful amount of adult stem cells that have already been shown to differentiate into a wide variety of tissue types, and which can be used in the future, if necessary, not only to treat the individual from whom the tooth originated but also blood-relatives of that individual.
Bio-Eden supplies participating mothers with a collection kit that includes storage containers and cooling packs for children's teeth, which parents are instructed to collect as soon as the teeth fall out. If the proper collection containers are not immediately available, the mothers are encouraged to store the teeth in fresh milk in the refrigerator until the teeth can be sent to Bio-Eden along with the appropriate collection supples. According to Vanessa Weeks, sales manager of Bio-Eden, "The process is simple and easy, it is non-invasive and allows you to use something that is normally discarded. The mums are wowed by the possibilities."
Once the teeth are sent to Bio-Eden, the soft pulp is then divided and stored simultaneously at two separate physical locations. As Ms. Weeks explains, "It means that, in the unlikely event of a major physical threat at our lab, there will still be another sample available."
Adult stem cells harvested from dental pulp have been shown to differentiate into a diverse range of tissue types which include, most notably, neurological tissue. As such, dental pulp-derived adult stem cells are believed to constitute an excellent source of stem cell therapies that could be used in the treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury, among others. (Please see the related news article on this website, entitled, "Brain Tissue Formed From Monkey Teeth Stem Cells", dated November 12, 2008, and first reported in the journal Stem Cells).
During the sixth week of embryonic development, human deciduous teeth begin forming in utero from the dental lamina which is a band of epithelial tissue that develops from the ectoderm, the outermost germ layer from which cells and tissues of the nervous system also develop. Hence, it is hardly surprisng that adult stem cells which are present in dental pulp are easily differentiable into neurological tissue. Since the outer part of the integumentary system including the epidermis also develops from the ectoderm, it is also not surprising that dental pulp stem cells have been found to develop into a number of cell types that compose these tissues as well. Interestingly, dental pulp has also been found to contain a variety of cell types from the mesoderm, which include chondrocytes (which are found in cartilage and which produce and maintain the cartilaginous matrix), osteoblasts (which are responsible for bone formation), adipocytes (fat cells) and mesenchymal stem cells (highly potent adult stem cells that are also found in bone marrow and umbilical cord blood). Dental pulp stem cells are therefore also believed to be useful as therapies in the treatment of heart disease, diabetes and in the reconstruction of damaged bones and joints, among other ailments. Indeed, the full range of therapies to which dental pulp-derived adult stem cells may be applicable is potentially unlimited.
Even though Bio-Eden is a U.S. company, headquartered in Austin, Texas, Bio-Eden has international laboratories in the U.K. and Thailand which provide services throughout Europe and Asia. Additional sites are currently be planned for Russia, India, Australia and the Middle East.
Bio-Eden is the first company to collect, harvest and cryogenically store adult stem cells that are extracted from deciduous teeth, also known as baby teeth. Bio-Eden is registered with and approved by the U.S. FDA.
As Bio-Eden states on the homepage of their website, next to a picture of a nurse with wings, "One day, the Tooth Fairy could save your child's life."