Why the Eyes (and Teeth) Have It

Researchers may be on the cusp of curing corneal vision loss

Instead of putting your child’s baby teeth under the pillow for the tooth fairy — you might want to ship those little pearly whites off to a lab. Doing so could protect your child’s healthy future.

A new company called Store-A-Tooth will take your child’s baby teeth, extract the stem cells from the soft tissue, and then store them for you, for use if and when needed.

“Store-A-Tooth comes from the new technology of genetics … The information from the stem cell of the tooth (can) create stem cells so that if down the road you or your child has some issue where they need transplants, they can then use those cells for it,” dentist Darren Riopelle of Grand Haven, Michigan, told

Last year, stem cells from wisdom teeth were used to grow new corneal cells — giving the phrase “eye teeth” a whole new meaning.

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In an amazing case of one part of the human head helping another, it is not just possible but probable that a person’s teeth may one day help their eyes, if they are suffering from corneal scarring.

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Research done in 2015 by the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine points to the ability of doctors to one day turn stem cells from the dental pulp of the routine third molar (or wisdom tooth) into corneal stromal cells called keratocytes.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Causes of Corneal Blindness” source=””]Vitamin A deficiency|Bacterial, fungal, or viral infections|Eye trauma|Congenital disease|Use of traditional medicine or home remedies[/lz_bulleted_list]

“Wisdom teeth are routinely discarded after extraction, making them an ideal resource for research. They can also be banked for later use,” Matt Wilgo, a cell biologist with the National Dental Pulp Laboratory in Newton, Massachusetts, told LifeZette. “Using stem cells for corneal disease will one day be routine. At a certain point we rarely did heart transplants, and now it is standard practice. Dental pulp stem cells will be the same way.”

For the University of Pittsburg experiments, the pulp of the wisdom teeth was collected after routine extractions at the university’s School of School of Dental Medicine. The pulp’s cells were then coaxed to turn into corneal cells.

“We thought dental pulp might be the answer, as other studies have proven that DPSCs (dental pulp stem cells) can differentiate into various other cells — they already have a similarity to cornea tissue, as they both develop in the embryo stage from the cranial neural crest,” said James Funderburgh, one of the study’s researchers, according to the University of Pittsburg Medical Center’s website. “That led us to believe we might induce DPSCs to become corneal cells, too.”

Subsequent experiments on mice were greatly encouraging. After five weeks, the eyes of mice injected with the keratocytes had remained clear and bore no signs of rejection.

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The cornea is the outermost layer of the eye and is extremely sensitive. Tears play the important role of nourishing the cornea. In order to refract light, the cornea must remain transparent and cloud-free.

Scarring of the cornea can be caused by a wide variety of infectious and inflammatory diseases, leading to severe vision loss and blindness.

Today, corneal transplants are a common way of treating corneal disease in developed countries. There were 48,229 corneal transplants performed in the United States in 2013 as a result of corneal disease, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Since 1961, more than a million men, women and children ranging in age from 9 days old to over 100 years old have had their sight restored through corneal transplants.

“The problem with corneal transplants is that the corneas come from cadavers, and there are many more people who need new corneas than there are cadavers,” said Wilgo. “I believe in 5 to 10 years we won’t have that problem anymore.”

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Trachoma, an infectious disease caused by bacterium, is one of the main causes of corneal scarring and is responsible for 4.9 million cases of blindness around the globe, according to See International’s website. The infection causes a roughening of the inner surface of the eyelids, which can lead to pain in the eyes, breakdown of the cornea, and possibly blindness.

Additionally, each year more than 350,000 children are born with or develop infections at a young age, which cause corneal blindness, according to See International.

The new research is promising, and perhaps can aid more than just human eyes.

“Dental pulp stem cells can be used to make neural, bone and other cells,” said Dr. Syed-Picard, another of the study’s researchers, according to University of Pittsburg Medical Center’s website. “They have great potential for use in regenerative therapies.”

In upcoming studies, the researchers will assess whether the stem cell technique can correct corneal scarring in an animal.

“Stem cells for regenerative medicine can be processed, frozen down cryogenically, and stored for later use,” said Wilgo. “The advancement of stem cells used to create cornea cells is an exciting avenue in medical research.”

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