For the first time, a new study has shown it is possible to use low-power lasers to spur stem cells in the body to make new tissue, in this case to regenerate dentin in teeth. The Harvard-led team says their work lays the foundation for a wealth of new clinical applications for healing wounds, regenerating bones and teeth, and more.
Senior author David J. Mooney, who is Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and colleagues report their study in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
They describe not only how they used low-powered laser light to spur human dental stem cells to form dentin – the bone-hard tissue that makes up the bulk of teeth – but also the precise molecular mechanisms involved.
Currently, when using stem cells, scientists have to remove them from the body, work with them in the lab, and then put them back in the body. Translating the results of research using this approach to the clinic involves numerous hurdles – both regulatory and practical.
But the laser-based method the Harvard-led team is working on should be much easier to translate to the clinic, as Prof. Mooney explains:
“Our treatment modality does not introduce anything new to the body, and lasers are routinely used in medicine and dentistry, so the barriers to clinical translation are low. It would be a substantial advance in the field if we can regenerate teeth rather than replace them.”
The work began when lead author and dentist Dr. Praveen Arany drilled holes in the molars of laboratory rats. Dr. Arany treated the tooth pulp that contains adult stem cells with low-dose laser light, sealed them with temporary caps and then just kept the animals comfortable and healthy and waited.
Twelve weeks later, when he examined the results using high-resolution X-ray imaging and microscopy, Dr. Arany, who is an Assistant Clinical Investigator at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found the laser treatment had triggered dentin formation.
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