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Scientist signals for Stem Cell studies

February 2005

by Natalie Gutierrez

Mary MacDougall, Ph.D., professor of pediatric dentistry, associate dean for research and the Presidentís Council Chair for Excellence in Dental Research, was invited to participate in a recent congressional briefing on adult stem cells, and presented her findings related to the application of adult stem cells in dental research. Dr. MacDougall was one of three experts who spoke Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C., with National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D. Her trip was sponsored by the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) and the American Dental Association. Dr. MacDougall is president-elect of the AADR.

Dr. MacDougall discussed using adult stem cells that are isolated from baby and permanent teeth to repair and regenerate teeth. She is studying stem cells from tooth tissues, including the pulp and periodontal ligament.

"We are working toward isolating stem cells from all dental tissues and utilizing them to regenerate damaged and diseased tissue to ultimately regenerate whole teeth," Dr. MacDougall said. Her research is funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and a UK-Texas Initiative Grant with Odontis Ltd., a new biotechnology company.

"We want to be able to trigger tooth growth directly in the gum," Dr. MacDougall said. "Damaged or missing teeth are a significant problem both aesthetically and functionally. Patients are treated with bridges, dentures or synthetic implants. But with the use of stem cells, individuals would eventually be able to grow their own replacement teeth." She predicts results from the study within 10 to 15 years.

Dr. MacDougall said the use of adult stem cells in dental research is vital not only for its applications in dentistry, but for its potential applications in all medical fields.

"Stem cells harvested from teeth have the potential to grow into other types of tissue, including bone, cartilage and nerve. Therefore, tooth stem cells have applications for the entire body. For example, tooth stem cells could be used to regenerate knee cartilage in a person who has lost cartilage related to a sports injury."

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