Scientists have, for the first time, taken adult stem cells and turned them into the bone and cartilage found in the human jaw.They say the groundbreaking work may one day lead to better treatments for the approximately 30 million people who suffer from temporomandibular disorders.
The study started with adult stem cells taken from rats. Previous research has shown these cells can be coaxed to become any other type of cell in the body -- bone, muscle, ligaments, cartilage, and even teeth. In this case, researchers treated the cells with special growth factors and other chemicals to make them become bone and cartilage.
They then took that mass and molded it into the shape of a human ball structure found in the jaw known as the articular condyle.
They watched the structure for a couple of weeks and found it retained the human shape. Tests also showed the structure continued to consist of human-like bone and cartilage.
"This represents the first time a human-shaped articular condyle with both cartilage and bone-like tissues was grown from a single population of adult stem cells," say researchers.
Specialists however emphasize much more work must be done before tissue-engineered structures such as the ball are ready for use in people, they believe these results bode well for the future.
Specialists say their ultimate goal is to create a condyle that is biologically viable -- a live tissue construct that integrates with existing bone and functions like the natural joint.