Stem cells from the dental pulp of wisdom teeth can be coaxed to turn into cells of the eye’s cornea and could one day be used to repair corneal scarring due to infection or injury, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Published online in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, the findings indicate dental pulp stem cells also 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, but shortages of donor corneas and rejection of donor tissue do occur, which can result in permanent vision loss, said senior investigator James Funderburgh, PhD, professor of ophthalmology at the University.
The researchers showed that stem cells of the dental pulp, obtained from routine human third molar extractions performed at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine, could be turned into corneal stromal cells called keratocytes, which have the same embryonic origin.
The research team injected the engineered keratocytes into the corneas of healthy mice, where they integrated without signs of rejection. The scientists 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, and they have great potential for use in regenerative therapies.
In future research, the scientists will assess whether the technique can correct corneal scarring in an animal model.
(Source: University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, Feburary 23, 2015)