KU Leuven: Researchers KU Leuven and UHasselt take an important step towards the development of biological tooth enamel

Damage to tooth enamel and cavities are still repaired by dentists today using a synthetic filling paste. There is no natural alternative to this. A new 3D model with human dental stem cells may change this in the future. The results of the research led by KU Leuven professor Hugo Vankelecom and professors Ivo Lambrichts and Annelies Bronckaers from Hasselt University were published in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences .

Our teeth are very important in ordinary activities such as eating and speaking, as well as for our self-image and psychological well-being. Relatively little is known about the human tooth. One important reason is the fact that certain human dental stem cells, unlike those of rodents, are difficult to grow in the lab. The KU Leuven team of professor Hugo Vankelecom, in collaboration with UHasselt, therefore designed a 3D research model with stem cells from the dental follicle, a membrane that surrounds human teeth that have not yet emerged.


The advantage of this type of 3D model is that the original properties of the stem cells used are reliably represented. We can, as it were, imitate a small part of our body in the lab and use it as a learning model. By using dental stem cells, we can use this model to develop other cells in our teeth, such as ameloblasts, which are responsible for the production of tooth enamel.

– Professor Hugo Vankelecom

Restore teeth naturally
Every day our teeth are exposed to acids and sugars from foods that can damage our tooth enamel. Unfortunately, this tissue cannot repair itself, requiring dental intervention. It has to fill the holes with a synthetic paste. “In our new model, we have succeeded in turning dental stem cells into ameloblasts, which in turn produce enamel components,” explains PhD student Lara Hemeryck. In the future, these cells could be used to repair tooth enamel in a natural way.

Impact in many sectors
The 3D cell model may also have applications in other sectors. For example, it could help the food industry research the effect of certain foods on tooth enamel, or manufacturers of toothpaste to optimize protection and care. Furthermore, the new research model can also be used to gain insights into the origin of certain dental diseases. “In addition, we want to combine this model with other types of dental stem cells, in order to develop other tooth structures and ultimately a fully biological tooth. Now we have focused on ameloblasts, but it is clear that our new model opens up several possibilities for further research and countless
applications,” concludes Professor Vankelecom.

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