BROWNSBURG, Ind.-- Vickie Spencer is the mother of two young, healthy boys, but she’s not taking any chances, especially when it comes to their future health.
She’s had their teeth, the interior dentin, frozen for future stem cell use.
“If they can have these healthy cells, why not?” asked Spencer. She has them stored at the Tooth Bank in Brownsburg.
Tooth Bank is a biotech company with experience in testing, processing and cryogenic storage. CEO Mike Byers says in the future, with the right growth factors applied, stem cells from teeth might grow any number of tissues.
“They have successfully regrown a trachea,” said Byers. “They’ve regrown teeth now to the point whole teeth have been transplanted into pigs.”
Stem cell research is a vigorous area of study in institutions around the world. Small livers have been grown by scientists at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland. At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, human intestinal tissue has been grown from stem cells.
Miniature human hearts have been grown in the lab at the University of Pittsburgh. According to Byers, there are over 2,000 studies that have been completed or are ongoing regarding the use of mesenchymal stem cells and regenerative medicine.
Stem cells from cord blood and fatty tissue have been extensively studied over the years. Teeth, especially wisdom teeth, are a source of stem cell study, Byers says.
“The best source is second and third molars,” he said. “The amount of tissue you get from an interior cavity of the wisdom tooth, is more than adequate.”
The process is fairly simple. Once extracted teeth are sent to Byers' lab for processing they are frozen through cryopreservation and monitored 24/7 at the Tooth Bank headquarters.
IU medical professor and stem cell researcher Dr. Keith March says preserving stem cells from teeth is not a bad idea.
“If you have some disposable income, it’s not unreasonable to say this is a kind of insurance,” said Dr. March. “But do we know yet that it’s going to be used or how? No. And we don’t know how the regulation will work.”
Spencer is betting that stem cells just might be the best investment she’s ever made for her children.
“We buy insurance for our kids and for ourselves with the hope we don’t have to use it,” she said. “So I kind of hope that it never has to be used.”
The cost of processing wisdom teeth runs around $500. Storage fees run around $115 per year. Byers does store clients' stem cells in two locations: Indiana and Utah, just in case of a disaster in one place, the stem cells would survive in the other.