New shark research could help combat human tooth loss

By Jessica Davis


Scientists at the University of Sheffield have made a major step towards combating human tooth loss, based on the way sharks regenerate their teeth.

The research team at the University has identified a special set of epithelial cells, termed the dental lamina, which are responsible for the lifelong continuation of tooth development and regeneration in sharks.

These genes make all vertebrate teeth from sharks to mammals. However in humans, the tooth regeneration ability has been highly reduced over time, meaning the gene cannot be utilised.

Dr Gareth Fraser, who is directing the research, stated: “Currently, we are focused on the shark system and the next phase of the research is to compare the complete gene expression profile in both shark to human cells to appreciate what is lost in the system.”

He also stated: “This is an important step in the progression of the field, and it suggests that teeth are extremely well conserved structures in vertebrates.”

Within humans, only two sets of teeth are formed – baby and adult teeth – before the special set of cells is lost.

Through analysing the teeth of catshark embryos, researchers found that these genes occur in the initial emergence of shark’s teeth and are re-deployed for further tooth growth.

The information found from the shark genes and cells responsible for natural tooth growth can be used to help design experiments and develop therapies of natural tooth regrowth in humans.

The research shows that these genes found in sharks are a product of around 450 million years of evolution and probably made the first vertebrate teeth.

This research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust and shark specimens were provided by the Natural History Museum.

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