Grant to Support Dental Epithelial Stem Cell Creation for Regenerative Therapies

Dentistry Today
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The National Institutes of Health has awarded Huojun Cao, MS, PhD, a two-year, $400,000 grant for his project, “Identification of Master Transcription Factors of Dental Epithelial Stem Cell by Computational Method.”

Cao is an assistant professor with the Iowa Institute for Oral Health Research and the Department of Endodontics at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.

According to the school, stem cell therapies are promising avenues in regenerative medicine. For these kinds of dental regenerative therapies, there is evidence that dental epithelial stem cells are necessary to successfully regenerate teeth and dental tissues.

Unfortunately, the school said, there are no currently available sources for these kinds of dental stem cells in human adults. Cao aims to establish a method for creating dental epithelial stem cells by genetically reprogramming other cells by means of master transcription factors.

A master transcription factor is a gene that regulates other transcription factors and associated genes. Thus, a change in the master transcription factor can significantly alter an entire cell or tissue type.

Therefore, the school said, the master transcription factor shows great promise for regenerative medicine. The overall goal is for these newly created stem cells to improve dental regenerative medicine.

However, the school said, identifying master transcription factors is cumbersome, costly, and difficult using experimental methods. Cao has developed a prediction tool, the MTFinder, to provide a computational method for identifying these master transcription factors.

The MTFinder incorporates both transciptome and epigenome data within a Bayesian statistical model so it can identify master transcription factors in an inexpensive, efficient, and comprehensive manner, the school said.

In preliminary studies, the MTFinder successfully ranked all known master transcription factors in mouse embryonic stem cells and liver hepatocytes. This particular project is using it to develop a systematic and comprehensive profile of dental epithelial stem cells.

This profile will narrow down the list of probably master transcription factors in these stem cells and allow for future experimental cell-reprogramming research to specifically identify the master transcription factors from a much more manageable list, the school said.

As a result, the school added, the project could play an important role in great advances in regenerative medicine in dentistry.

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