While highly potent embryonic stem cells are often the subject of ethical and safety controversy, adult-derived stem cells have other problems. As we age, our stem cells are less pliant and less able to transform into the stem cells that science needs to find breakthrough treatments for disease.
An exception to this can be found in the stem cells of oral mucosa, the membrane that lines the inside of our mouths. These cells do not seem to age along with the rest of our bodies. In his lab at Tel Aviv University's Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine, Prof. Sandu Pitaru and his graduate students Keren Marinka-Kalmany, Sandra Treves, Miri Yafee and Yossi Gafni, have successfully collected cells from oral mucosa and manipulated them into stem cells.
Though taken from adult tissues, these oral stem cells are almost as easy to manipulate as embryonic stem cells, Prof. Pitaru discovered. His research, which has been published in the journal Stem Cells, opens a new door to stem cell research and potential therapies for neurodegenerative, heart, and autoimmune diseases, as well as diabetes.
The healing powers of Wolverine
Dentists have long been aware of some of the unique properties of the oral mucosa, says Prof. Pitaru. "Wounds in the oral mucosa heal by regeneration, which means that the tissue reverts completely back to its original state," he says. A wound that might take weeks to heal and leave a life-long scar on the skin will be healed in a matter of days inside the mouth, regardless of the patient's age. Except for the mouth, this type of healing usually occurs only in very young organisms and lower amphibians, such as the lizards that can regenerate their tails.
Prof. Pitaru set out to determine if oral mucosa could be a source for young, fetal-like stem cells with this unique healing ability. Even when obtained from an older patient, he says, these stem cells still have properties of young or prim
|Contact: George Hunka|
American Friends of Tel Aviv University