Researchers from KU Leuven and UHasselt take important step towards development of biological dental enamel

To this day, cavities and damage to enamel are repaired by dentists with the help of synthetic filling materials. There is no natural alternative to this. A new 3D model with human dental stem cells could change this in the future. The results of the research led by KU Leuven Professor Hugo Vankelecom and Professors Annelies Bronckaers and Ivo Lambrichts from UHasselt have been published in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences.

Our teeth are very important in everyday activities such as eating and speaking, as well as for our self-esteem and psychological well-being. There is relatively little known about human teeth. An important reason is that certain human dental stem cells, unlike those of rodents, are difficult to grow in the lab. That’s why the KU Leuven team of Professor Hugo Vankelecom, in cooperation with UHasselt, developed a 3D research model with stem cells from the dental follicle, a membraneous tissue surrounding unerupted human teeth.

The advantage of this type of 3D model is that it reliably reproduces the stem cells’ original properties. We can recreate a small piece of our body in the lab, so to speak, and use it as a research model. By using dental stem cells, we can develop other dental cells with this model, such as ameloblasts that are responsible for enamel formation.

Professor Hugo Vankelecom

Natural tooth repair

Each day, our teeth are exposed to acids and sugars from food that can cause damage to our enamel. Enamel cannot regenerate, which makes an intervention by the dentist necessary. The latter has to fill the cavities with synthetic materials. "In our new model, we have managed to turn dental stem cells into ameloblasts that produce enamel components, which can eventually lead to biological enamel. That enamel could be used as a natural filling material to repair dental enamel", explains doctoral candidate Lara Hemeryck. In the future, these cells could be used to repair dental enamel naturally.

Impact in many sectors

The 3D cell model can have applications in other sectors as well. For example, it could help the food industry to examine the effect of particular food products on dental enamel, or toothpaste manufacturers to optimise protection and care. Furthermore, the new research model can be used to investigate the occurrence of different dental problems. "In addition, we want to combine this model with other types of dental stem cells to develop still other tooth structures, and eventually an entire biological tooth. Now, we focused on ameloblasts, but our new model clearly opens up various possibilities for further research and countless applications", concludes Professor Vankelecom.


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