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Scientists plan teeth that regrow

Stem cells
Science and Technology
Great Britain

LONDON, England -- False teeth could become a thing of the past thanks to stem cell technology, scientists at London University say.

Successful tests on mice show the technology may let people grow their own replacement teeth.

The London team at Kings College have been awarded £500,000 ($887,500) to further their research and have set up a private company, Odontis, to develop their plans.

The scientists say the technology will allow those with missing teeth to fill the gaps in their mouth without having to resort to false teeth, bridges or synthetic implants.

The technology works by taking stem cells -- "master" cells that can be programmed to make different kinds of tissue -- from the patient which are treated and cultured in the lab.

They are then re-implanted in the patient's jaw under the gum where the tooth is missing.

Prof. Paul Sharpe, the genetic research scientist behind the technique, told the UK's Press Association that it was hoped the tooth would then grow into a fully-formed, live tooth in around two months.

He said the technique had been tested in mice and they hoped to move on to trials in humans in the next two years.

But it could be five years before the technology is widely available to the general public.

The researchers are testing the success of stem cells taking from different parts of the body, such as from bone marrow or teeth themselves.

Prof. Sharpe, head of division of Craniofacial Biology and Biomaterials at the Dental Institute at King's College, said the cost should not be more than the current price tag for synthetic implants -- around £1,500 ($2,660) -- £2,000 ($3,550).

"A key advantage of our technology is that a living tooth can preserve the health of the surrounding tissues much better than artificial prosthesis," he told PA.

"Teeth are living, and they are able to respond to a person's bite.

"They move and in doing so they maintain the health of the surrounding gums and teeth," he said.

In the UK and U.S., people over the age of 50 lose an average of 12 teeth from a full set of 32.

Problems associated with loss of teeth include general health, nutrition and physical appearance.

Prof. Sharpe's project has been awarded £300,000 ($532,500) from the Wellcome Trust, £100,000 ($177,500) from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and £100,000 from a business sponsor.

Mark White, invention and innovation director at NESTA, told PA: "Odontis have come up with a dental method that is highly innovative and pioneering in its approach.

"We hope that our seed investment will bring about a major success story for the UK research and science community."

A spokesman for the British Dental Association (BDA) told PA: "The BDA welcomes projects like Odontis and looks forward to seeing further progress in this field.

"The BDA is also pleased to see the level of investment for this project from NESTA and hopes that future oral health projects will be given similar priority."

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