Recent findings by Japanese scientists reportedly open the possibility of a new drug that could help regenerate lost teeth in humans.
Researchers at Kyoto University and the University of Fukui have found in animal studies that suppressing the uterine sensitization associated gene-1 (USAG-1) gene, by using its antibody, can efficiently lead to tooth growth.
The report, published in Science Advances, noted that the USAG-1 antibody is able to stimulate tooth growth in mice suffering from a congenital condition known as tooth agenesis.
Genetic causes for cases of having too many teeth have been looked into as hints for regenerating teeth in adults. In humans, congenital conditions that affect about 1% of the population cause people to have more or fewer than the normal 32 teeth.
Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine senior lecturer Katsu Takahashi, one of the study’s lead authors, noted how their team identified the fundamental molecules responsible for tooth development.
“The morphogenesis of individual teeth depends on the interactions of several molecules including BMP, or bone morphogenetic protein, and Wnt signaling,” he was quoted as saying.
The study further noted that aside from tooth development, BMP and Wnt are also involved in modulating the growth of multiple organs and tissues in the very early stages of human development. This is why medicines that affect the activities of BMP and Wnt are avoided due to the side effects they might cause to the entire body.
The findings marked the first time the benefits of monoclonal antibodies — proteins that mimic the immune system to fight off pathogens — on tooth regeneration are shown. This offers a new therapeutic framework for a clinical problem that has long been limited by implants and other artificial solutions.
Study co-author Manabu Sugai of the University of Fukui, explained: “Conventional tissue engineering is not suitable for tooth regeneration. Our study shows that cell-free molecular therapy is effective for a wide range of congenital tooth agenesis.”
The research team first looked into the effects of several monoclonal antibodies for USAG-1, which are commonly used to treat cancers, arthritis, and vaccine development. They eventually isolated one antibody that was found to disrupt the interaction of USAG-1 with BMP only.
A single administration of this antibody was enough to generate a whole tooth. Other experiments showed similar results in ferrets. Takahashi pointed out that the ferrets, being diphyodont animals, have similar dental patterns to humans.
The researchers are now looking into testing the antibodies on animals such as pigs and dogs.
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