Tel Aviv University's Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine isolated oral mucosa cells and manipulated them into stem cells.
These cells do not seem to age along with the rest of our bodies, researchers say.
Though taken from adult tissues, these oral stem cells are almost as easy to manipulate as embryonic stem cells, Prof. Pitaru discovered.
His research opens a new door to stem cell research and potential therapies for neurodegenerative, heart, and autoimmune diseases, as well as diabetes.
Dentists have long been aware of some of the unique properties of the oral mucosa, says Prof. Pitaru. "Wounds in the oral mucosa heal by regeneration, which means that the tissue reverts completely back to its original state," he says.
A wound that might take weeks to heal and leave a life-long scar on the skin will be healed in a matter of days inside the mouth, regardless of the patient's age.
Prof. Pitaru set out to determine if oral mucosa could be a source for young, fetal-like stem cells with this unique healing ability. Even when obtained from an older patient, he says, these stem cells still have properties of young or primitive stem cells - which have a high capacity to be transformed into different tissues.
Prof. Pitaru and his fellow researchers have already succeeded in coaxing oral mucosa stem cells into becoming other significant cells, including bone, cartilage, muscle, and even neurons.
The study has been published in the journal Stem Cell.