Dental stem cell banking may be the key to treating type 1 diabetes, according to the Journal of Dental Research. A new treatment, called encapsulation therapy, may help type 1 diabetics begin to produce insulin on their own.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, causing the organ to stop producing the hormone completely. Insulin is a hormone critical to the body’s ability to get energy from food. It’s estimated that 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. About 200,000 of those cases are patients under the age of 20.
There is no cure for the disease, and current treatments include insulin injection therapy to replace the deficiency left by the nonworking pancreas. Type 1 diabetes patients may also require continuous insulin infusion through a pump, and must check their blood glucose level throughout the day to make sure they do not have extreme highs or lows that may be life threatening.
In encapsulation therapy, a small capsule containing insulin-producing cells known as beta cells or islets derived from stem cells are implanted under the patient’s skin. This capsule serves as a protection for these insulin-producing cells against the body, which sees them as a threat to the immune system because of the autoimmune component of the disease.
One way researchers are getting the stem cells for this treatment is to collect them from baby teeth. Children with diabetes can bank their stem cells by sending them to a laboratory for processing and preservation.
Stem cell therapy has proven successful in treating a wide range of conditions including cancer, autoimmune disorders and joint or nerve conditions. Dental researchers believe that stem cells derived from the teeth have the potential to heal conditions similar to stem cells collected from other parts of the body.
Dental stem cells are mesenchymal stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to develop into bone, connective tissue like muscles and tendons, skin and the blood vessels of the circulatory system.
Dental stem cells were proven to be able to produce islet-like cells that produce insulin that are critical for the body.
They also can be used to regrow tooth enamel lost to decay, injury or periodontal infections. A December 2016 study showed the ability to regenerate nerves and dental pulp by injecting stem cells directly into damaged teeth to restore function and eliminate the need for root canals.
“Research regarding dental stem cells to heal damaged or diseased teeth and other health conditions is important to how dentists treat patients,” Dr. James Erpenbach said.
Erpenbach is a Knoxville, Tennessee, dentist. He sees the value of using dental stem cells because they allow the tooth to heal itself naturally, and reduce the need for other treatments that may stress the tooth, causing further damage or tooth loss.
Dental stem cell harvesting is best performed with baby teeth- because stem cells are still viable and the teeth are not permanent. The teeth are extracted when only one-third of the root remains. Once the teeth are extracted they are shipped to a stem cell storage facility which will grow and preserve the stem cells.
There are several dental stem cell storage companies across the United States. Patients who want to have their child’s dental stem cells banked should discuss their options with their dentist.
Dental stem cell research is new, and all though the cells are showing many benefits, their best applications have not yet been fully developed. Like other stem cell therapies, it is best when the stem cells used come directly from the patient that they will be used on, to limit risk of reaction or rejection.
Fox News. “Can banking baby teeth treat diabetes?” 12 February 2017
JDRF, ” Type 1 Diabetic Facts”