Teeth could treat spinal injuries

Here is another good reason to take extra care of your pearly whites – a new study suggests that teeth could help treat spinal cord injuries.

The study, conducted at Nayoga University in Japan under the guidance of Akihito Yamamoto and Kiyoshi Sakai, found evidence that dental pulp cells (extracted from the centre of adult wisdom teeth) stop nerve cells from dying, regenerate severed nerves and encourage the growth of other cells that support the spinal cord.

Spinal cord injury occurs when a traumatic event results in damage to cells within the spinal cord or severs the nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord - the most common types include bruising of or pressure on the spinal cord.  Spinal cord injury is one of the most common causes of disability in young adults and currently there is no proven reparative treatment.

 'Remarkably promising result'

According to a press release by the Journal of Clinical Investigation, which published the research article, rats with severe spinal cord injury showed marked recovery of hind limb function when they were transplanted with human dental stem cells.

“Detailed analysis revealed that the human dental pulp stem cells mediated their effects in three ways: they inhibited the death of nerve cells and their support cells; they promoted the regeneration of severed nerves; and they replaced lost support cells by generating new ones. Yamamoto and colleagues therefore hope that this approach can be translated into an effective treatment for severe spinal cord injury.”

Experts have welcomed the findings. "Certainly, within the context of spinal cord injuries, this is a relatively new and under-studied source of stem cells which appears to show remarkably promising result," Dr Mark Bacon, research director at the UK charity Spinal Research told Daily Mirror.

Alex Rankin, director of services at spinal injuries charity Aspire added: "We are excited by the prospect of a cure being found for spinal cord injuries through the use of dental pulp stem cells."

Electrical stimulation

There are a number of other studies investigating treatment for spinal injury victims including the use of electrical stimulation.

The Lancet reported earlier this year that a man, left paralysed after a car accident, was able to stand and take steps after electrical stimulation of his lower spinal cord, a process designed to mimic signals the brain normally transmits to initiate movement.

The use of electrical stimulation is also what helped the late Superman actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralysed in a horseback accident in 1995, to breathe without a ventilator for about 15 minutes at a time. The implantable device called NeuRx DPS RA/4 Respiratory Stimulation System, was first tested on Reeve, a year before his death in 2003, and assists breathing by electrically stimulating the muscles and nerves that run through the diaphragm.

(Compiled by Birgit Ottermann, Health24, December 2011)

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