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Harnessing “positive stress” to boost tooth tissue regeneration

University of Hong Kong researchers have developed an approach to regenerating lost tooth pulp in damaged teeth by modifying tooth stem cells to mimic a responsive state. (Image: Sasin Paraksa/Shutterstock)

Wed. 19. October 2022


HONG KONG: Dentists are all too familiar with the negative effects that stress can have on the oral cavity; however, a recent study by a team of researchers from the University of Hong Kong has shown that “positive stress” can be utilised to enhance the therapeutic potential of tooth stem cells by increasing their resistance to injury and disease. According to the university, the study is the first to show that preconditioning tooth stem cells to stress can cause their adaptive mechanisms to boost the regeneration of tooth pulp tissue.

As detailed in a press release from the university, the research team aimed to develop an approach to regenerating lost tooth pulp in damaged teeth through the use of a preconditioning protocol to genetically modify tooth cells. The modifications caused the cells to mimic a responsive state for low oxygen conditions, activating a protein that induces adaptive changes.

Dr Waruna Dissanayaka and his research team believe the findings of their research will promote the development of new strategies to enhance the therapeutic potential of tooth stem cells. (Image: University of Hong Kong)

Co-author of the study Dr Yuanyuan Han explained in the press release: “As this protein was reported to activate several key adaptive mechanisms, we wondered whether this phenomenon can be applied to improve cell survival following transplantation until a sufficient blood supply is achieved.” She said: “[These] cells activate a metabolic mechanism to produce energy under low oxygen conditions and scavenge harmful metabolites produced in stress conditions.”

Dr Waruna Dissanayaka, lead author of the study and assistant professor of oral biosciences at the university’s Faculty of Dentistry, said: “Interestingly, we also found that preconditioned cells significantly enhanced the dental hard tissue formation within the regenerated pulp tissue.”

Pointing out that prior research has already revealed that cells possess a number of adaptive mechanisms for stress and that these are regulated by genes in our DNA, Dr Dissanayaka posited: “If we can activate these genes, downstream expression of specific proteins can prime the cells [to be] less vulnerable to injury.”

Dr Dissanayaka explained: “Tooth stem cells have an inherent capacity to survive under stress.” He said that the research team aims to take advantage of this capacity in order to use positive stress to aid in the regeneration of dental tissues. Dr Dissanayaka believes that the findings of the study will help to promote new strategies that will increase the therapeutic potential of tooth stem cells.

The study, titled “HIF-1α stabilization boosts pulp regeneration by modulating cell metabolism”, won the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Colgate Research in Prevention Travel Award this year and was published in the September 2022 issue of the Journal of Dental Research.

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