Parents now preserving baby teeth for stem cells

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SALT LAKE CITY -- That tooth under your child's pillow may be worth more than what the fairy is planning to leave. Some parents are now preserving their children's baby teeth for stem cells.

Twelve-year-old Abi McGlone is missing a few baby teeth. Her parents are keeping each one, not for the tooth fairy, but for something potentially more important. Abi has Type 1 diabetes and they hope, someday, stem cells from her baby teeth might unlock a cure.

For a few years, many new parents have banked the blood in their babies' umbilical cords right after birth, but it's expensive.

Abi was diagnosed with diabetes at age 3.

"Neither of us knew anything about diabetes and had no clue that it was such a huge, life-long change," said Maria McGlone, Abi's mother.

The McGlones say the baby teeth stem cells ads are promising. In 2003, researchers at the National Institutes of Health discovered that stem cells are nestled in the pulp of baby teeth.

"From that single baby tooth, we can isolate between 10 and 20 cells. The number is very small, but they're very powerful in how they can divide," said Pamela Robey, with the National Institues of Health.

At the University of Utah School of Medicine, researchers say they are years away from conclusive evidence about stem cells from baby teeth. However, there are more powerful cells in other parts of the body; powerful in the number that can be harvested at one time.

Dr. Amit Patel, director of Clinical Regenerative Medicine at the University of Utah, says for stem cells to be effective, doctors need millions or billions.

"The type of cells that can be harvested from dental pulp are mazencamal cells; and what's interesting about those, those are the tissue-supporting cells which are found in all the organs of the body. So, in bone marrow, these cells are already readily available," Patel said.

The McGlones paid $500 to the National Dental Pulp Lab, one of a handful of tooth cell banks. They will continue to pay $125 a year to keep the teeth frozen. They have hope that one day the tooth fairy will bring the wonderful gift of a cure.

So far, the baby teeth stem cells have only been tested on animals.


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Carole Mikita


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