Genetic Engineering New Teeth


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The article I read was about some scientists that were able to grow teeth inside rats’ bodies. This project was led by Pamela C. Yelick, a scientist for Forsyth Institute, and the project was conducted in Massachusetts. Joseph P. Vacanti, a tissue engineer at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Yelick had the idea for the experiment.
     Vacanti had previously worked with rats and he found that cells will naturally organize themselves into tissues and other complex structures if they are placed in the right environment. Vacanti and Yelick hypothesized that the same approach could be applied to growing teeth. Previous research had identified the stem cells that make dentin, but no one had been able to use the stem cells that make tooth enamel prior to this experiment.
The teeth were formed – inside the bellies of rats – using stem cells from pigs. Yelick obtained the cells from discarded pig jaws at a meat packing plant. The scientists removed a molar that had not yet erupted from the pig jaw to use for the project. They ground the molar into small pieces and treated it with enzymes to break it down into small patches of cells.
The cells were then placed into a scaffold and implanted into the rats. The scientists placed the scaffolds in the blood-rich tissue near the rats’ intestines. This area provided the nutrients that the cells needed to grow. The rats used in the experiment had weakened immune systems that would not reject the foreign tissue.
At that point, the researchers could only wait for the teeth to grow. As an added precaution, the rats were placed in a special clean room behind locked doors. The researchers would periodically x-ray the rats to see if anything had grown, but it was not until after several months that they actually found encouraging splotches inside the rats.
This article showed that we can use stem cells to create tooth enamel that we can use for new teeth and other dental needs in the future. Before this project, the idea of creating teeth using stem cells was only a thought. In class we talked about the creation of human organs inside of animals, cloning animals, and cloning humans, but we had not mentioned “cloning” teeth. Cloning humans brought up many ethical issues, but I do not think “cloning” teeth would pose any problems.
The information in this article seems biased. The Boston Globe is definitely not a scientific journal.

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There are no negative points about the procedure in the article and the writer only obtained information from people that were directly involved in the project. I am interested in hearing what other scientists in the industry have to say about these findings.
This project was consistent with the scientific method. I think the original observation was “How can we grow teeth in a lab?” Yelick and Vacanti then hypothesized that they could grow teeth using the same methods that are used to grow new tissue. The experiment consisted of placing the scaffold in the rat to try to grow the teeth. Their conclusion is simply that the cells were able to grow teeth inside the rats’ bodies.
It is hard to say that conclusions were drawn logically from the evidence. The article mentions that the scientists “saw something on the x-rays that looked whiter than bone.” The article does not mention if it was definitely a tooth and if it is a tooth how accurately the tooth was grown.
This study raises many future questions. The researchers still need to figure out how to increase the size of the teeth and how to make the roots grow. They also need to figure out how to move the technology from pigs to human patients. The pig’s immune system will need to be compatible with a human’s immune system in order to effectively grow the new teeth. We also need to know if the tooth will survive when moved to the human, if there are any side effects, and how long the tooth will last.
This experiment could obviously bring about great rewards in the future. I am all for continuing research on this project and I hope that the scientists continue to show progress. Genetically created teeth are far from the argument of “playing God” and it could only help those in need of special dental care.


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