Banking on their Future

We all want the best for our children – happiness, a world of opportunities and most importantly good health.

hrough our approach to parenting we try to help them realise their dreams and broaden their horizons. But while we may do our best to serve up healthy food and plenty of exercise, we cannot plan for the cards that fate deals our children. Or can we?

British parents are now being offered the opportunity to take advantage of cutting edge medical technology in a bid to try and safeguard their child’s future. The service, offered by a handful of companies including London-based bio bank Precious Cells, involves extracting valuable pulp from the child’s milk teeth which is rich in stem cells. The cells are then cryogenically frozen and ‘banked’ for the child’s future use.

Although there is as yet no solid evidence that stem cells extracted in this way can be used in medicine, scientists are confident there is huge potential for groundbreaking treatments. There are multiple ongoing clinical trials globally, as experts believe stem cells extracted from teeth could eventually treat a broad range of conditions including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Stem cells are unique because they drive the natural healing process throughout your life. They are different from other cells in the body because they regenerate and produce specialised cell types. They heal and restore skin, bones, cartilage, muscles, nerves and other tissues when damaged or injured.

Dental pulp contains unique stem cells that have the ability to regenerate and develop into many other different kinds of cells. These can potentially be used to replace diseased and damaged tissues in the body without rejection. As such, they are at the heart of research into one of the most exciting areas of modern science – regenerative medicine.

Stem cell banking is not a new concept. Doctors have been offering new parents the chance to preserve these precious cells from the blood of their umbilical cord for some time. However, this is only available privately in the UK and as the NHS is not allowed to promote private industry it is not widely known about.

But the good news is that even if you knew nothing about cord blood banking at the time of your child’s birth, you may not have missed the boat.

Dr Husein Salem is the founder of London-based bio bank, Precious Cells. Having spent years as a molecular biologist who specialised in stem cell research, Dr Salem established the company after his son was born.

He says: “I wanted to start banking stem cells for my son when he was born. I paid for it with another company and was never really happy with the service that we received.”

Based in Uxbridge in Middlesex, Precious Cells offers clients the opportunity to store stem cells collected from bone marrow, lipo tissue, cord blood and umbilical cord. But perhaps most exciting for parents, is the opportunity to access cells from your child’s milk teeth.

Dr Salem says, “We offer parents peace of mind through alternative care management options for the future. This is for people who can really see that cell therapy will become mainstream medical use in the future. It’s for people who anticipate the use of cell therapy for treatment of diseases that their own family and community suffer from.”

“It’s an opportunity, especially for those who missed out on their child’s stem cells from cord blood.”
It’s not quite as easy as waiting for the tooth fairy, though the process is relatively straight-forward.
Dr Salem says, “Usually when a child’s tooth falls out it’s because it’s being replaced by a permanent tooth. It can hang by a thread for a while, which means the blood supply might have stopped up to ten days earlier. However, you or your child wouldn’t know that.”

“When it becomes mobile take the child to the dentist to extract the tooth. The dentist will check to see if there’s any pulp which can be used. If there’s no pulp, they will advise to try again next time.”

Precious Cells has a network of dentists who are trained up on the procedure and their ranks are growing daily. Once the tooth is extracted, it is stored in a special solution, then transferred by medical courier to the lab where the pulp is cryogenically frozen.
The amount extracted from a single tooth is tiny, but there is a huge difference between these kind of stem cells and those found in the umbilical cord, according to Dr Salem.

“Dental stem cells can be expanded,” he says.

“You start with a very small amount then very quickly, within 10 to 14 days, you can exponentially grow the number of stem cells. Technically you could grow them to an unlimited amount so you could use them multiple times. Meanwhile, at the moment you can only use cord blood for one treatment.”

While clinical trials are at an early stage, the results so far are encouraging. What’s more, because potential treatments use the patient’s own cells, there are rarely any side effects. What’s more, adults can also bank their teeth, though obviously grown-ups are far less likely to lose healthy, viable teeth for storage.

Cells can be banked not just for the donor, but for close relatives too. However, the prospective recipient will need to be a tissue match and in this instance the body may reject the cells.

The catch is two-fold. Firstly the procedure does not come cheap, with most companies charging well in excess of £1,000 with extra fees levied for prolonged storage. Moreover, according to The UK Stem Cell Foundation there is no solid evidence to prove that therapy can be carried out using cells extracted from milk teeth.

So are you taking an expensive gamble by banking your child’s milk teeth?

Dr Salem doesn’t seem to think so. He says, “In the beginning a lot of people did consider it science fiction. But scientists and medical professionals who were doing it for their own kids believed it was science fact.”

Dental pulp stem cells are characterised as Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs). Dr Salem adds, “MSCs are currently under investigation for over 100 clinical trials (phase 1-3) including heart disease, diabetes and neuro-degenerative disorders. Precious Cells is a world leading authority in cell and tissue cryo-preservation services.

“I have spent many years in stem cell research and I think it’s only a matter of time before everyone’s doing it. Once it’s a mainstream service we’ll be able to lower the cost. Everyone has got a vested interest in making this a reality. The more people that invest in it, the more advancements we are going to see.”

Professor Paul Sharpe is head of Craniofacial Development & Orthodontics at Kings College. Part of his specialism involves studying how stem cells mobilise in the head and teeth. As such, he has advised several companies on banking stem cells extracted from teeth.

He says, “I think there’s a lot of potential. Stem cells extracted from teeth can be patient-specific so you don’t have an issue of rejection. With cord blood you only have one chance, but here you have multiple opportunities.

“The stem cells from teeth have attracted a lot of attention because they come for free – you don’t have to have some of your fat removed or a bone marrow aspiration.”

However Professor Sharpe acknowledges that there are “no guarantees”. He adds, “The unknowns are that you don’t know what the applications are going to be, but there is a lot of work being done. It’s an insurance policy, but one with no guarantee of any payout.”
“At the moment the only advice is that if you can afford it, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it. In the end it’s a matter of finances.”

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