Dr. Christopher Nosrat, an assistant professor at the U-M School of Dentistry who is involved in the effort, said the research focuses on determining if dental pulp cells might have purposes other than making and maintaining teeth.
Nosrat's research involves growing dental pulp cells in a laboratory and closely monitoring the process that leads to the growth and development of nerves within those cells that eventually lead to the formation of proper nerve connections in teeth.
Proper wiring of the brain to peripheral tissues ("innervation") helps the brain become aware of possible damage to organs, such as pulling a hand back from flames or seeking dental care after experiencing a toothache or having a sensitive tooth. "In those cases, activated nerve cells transmit a message to the brain to alert it that something's not right," Nosrat said.
The process of dental pulp cell innervation and spinal cord cell regeneration after injury may be similar, Nosrat said. He is trying to determine if similar mechanisms and molecules may be involved in both processes. If that proves to be the case, then there could be other benefits.
"Conceivably, it one day may be possible to extract a tooth, grow dental pulp cells, and implant those cells into a patient suffering from a neuro-degenerative disease such as Parkinson's disease. While that is the ultimate goal, it still is a long way off," he said. "We need to conduct experiments over an extended period of time."
Additional information about Nosrat's research appears in the online version of "Developmental Biology" (http://www.idealibrary.com/links/toc/dbio/0/0/0). The article will appear in print in that publication's Oct. 1 edition.
The U-M School of Dentistry is one of the nation's leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care, and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the School to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction train future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia, and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. More information is available at http://www.dent.umich.edu.
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