Washington: Stem cells from wisdom teeth can be coaxed to become cells of the eye's cornea and could one day be used to repair corneal scarring due to infection or injury, scientists have found.
The findings indicate that stem cells from the dental pulp of wisdom teeth could become a new source of corneal transplant tissue made from the patient's own cells.
Corneal blindness, which affects millions of people worldwide, is typically treated with transplants of donor corneas, said senior investigator James Funderburgh, professor of ophthalmology at University of Pittsburgh.
"Shortages of donor corneas and rejection of donor tissue do occur, which can result in permanent vision loss," Funderburgh said.
"Our work is promising because using the patient's own cells for treatment could help us avoid these problems," he said.
Experiments conducted by lead author Fatima Syed-Picard, also of Pitt's Department of Ophthalmology, and the team showed that stem cells of the dental pulp, obtained from routine human third molar, or wisdom tooth, extractions performed at Pitt's School of Dental Medicine, could be turned into corneal stromal cells called keratocytes, which have the same embryonic origin.
The team injected the engineered keratocytes into the corneas of healthy mice, where they integrated without signs of rejection. They also used the cells to develop constructs of corneal stroma akin to natural tissue.
"Other research has shown that dental pulp stem cells can be used to make neural, bone and other cells," Syed-Picard noted.
"They have great potential for use in regenerative therapies," she said.
The study is published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.