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A Future Genetic Therapy for Missing Teeth?

A recent study has revealed an exciting possibility for treating a certain dental condition. Some people are born with a gene that tells their body not to create a certain adult tooth or teeth—or to create an extra one or more. 

This is an inherited problem that causes dental problems for only 1% of adults. But a cure could be useful both to those adults and to others, because this may lead to other advances as we better understand the genetics underlying tooth development. 

What Was the Idea Behind the Study?

Scientists in Japan performed studies on mice that had the genetics for tooth agenesis, which is the genetic condition that causes teeth not to grow. 

The team knew that bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) interacts with the Wnt signaling pathways—proteins that pass signals along to certain cells—to cause teeth to grow. So, the team wanted to alter this system in the mice with this condition to correct it. 

But the BMP and Wnt are also involved with general organ development while a fetus is growing. Changing them with drugs or other interventions can be risky, because it can affect the whole body, not just the teeth. 

The solution? The team needed to target the BMP and Wnt only in the areas of tooth development. The team knew that the suppression of a gene called USAG-1 has been known to improve tooth development. But this hadn’t yet been used to try to cure tooth agenesis.

What Were the Results?

The team tried several types of antibodies that would target USAG-1 and suppress it. Some of the antibodies caused birth problems, as expected, but finally one of them caused the desired interaction between BMP and USAG-1.

The effect? The team found that BMP plays a vital role in determining the number of teeth the mice would have—and a single dose was enough to create a new tooth in mice that had the genetic background to be missing a tooth. 

They then repeated this experiment with ferrets and found the same results. Interestingly, ferret dental patterns are similar to those found in humans, making this result promising. The team plans to experiment with other animals next.

What Does the Future Hold?

Could medical providers in the future give a quick injection to correct genetic dental problems? It may be. Scientific research is still ongoing, but these results so far look promising! This Japanese team found a genetic therapy that seems to help one’s DNA to generate a tooth—which otherwise would require a solution like a tooth implant to correct.

What other beneficial dental advances might humanity uncover in the future? We’re excited to find out!

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