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3-D tissue engineering to revolutionize dental disease

What is tissue engineering?

Tissue Engineering is the study of the growth of new connective tissues, or organs, from cells and a collagenous scaffold to produce a fully functional organ for implantation back into the donor host. Engineered tissue is formed by the use of a scaffold, which is a natural or a biodegradable synthetic structure. Collagen is effectively the ‘glue’ that holds our bodies together.

Tissue engineering can be used to restore, maintain, or enhance tissues and organs. The potential impact of this field, however, is far broader and in the future, engineered tissues could reduce the need for organ replacement.

On 29 March 2016 it was reported that Griffith University researchers had pioneered the use of 3-D bioprinting to replace missing teeth and bone.

Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute in Queensland was granted $650,000 by the National Health and Medical Research Council to conduct a three-year study, which was undertaken by periodontist Professor Saso Ivanovski.

Professor Ivanovski and his team use 3D bioprinting to produce new, totally bespoke tissue engineered bone and gum that can be implanted into a patient’s jawbone.

Professor Ivanovski explains that this approach begins with a scan of the affected jaw, prior to the design of a replacement part using computer-assisted design. A specialised bioprinter is then able to successfully fabricate the gum structures that have been lost to disease in one single process. The cells and other components that make up the bone and gum tissue can then be manufactured to exactly fit the missing bone and gum for a particular individual.

Traditionally, people with missing teeth who have lost a lot of jawbone due to disease or trauma, are offered dental implants. However, for some patients implants are not an option as there is not enough bone for dental implant placement. Although in these situations it is possible to take bone grafts from another part of the body, these procedures are very painful.

Professor Ivanovski explains that,

“By using this sophisticated tissue engineering approach, we can instigate a much less invasive method of bone replacement. A big benefit for the patient is that the risks of complications using this method will be significantly lower because bone doesn’t need to be removed from elsewhere in the body. We also won’t have the problem of limited supply that we have when using the patient’s own bone.”

When will this be available?

3-D bioprinting is still currently in pre-clinical trials. However Professor Ivanovski advises that the aim is to trial the new technology in humans within the next one to two years.

How much will it cost?

This is as yet unknown but it is unlikely to be cheap. However, Professor Ivanovski argues that it should be a less costly way of augmenting deficient jaw bone. Whatever the cost, there is no doubt that it will be a less painful experience.

Obviously it is too early to tell whether this revolutionary new treatment is capable of changing the way dentists treat the loss of teeth, and there is still a lot of research to be done that must be followed by extensive clinical trials. 

However the use of tissue engineering is an exciting concept and could well mean that the discomfort and stigma of loose or missing teeth could soon be a thing of the past.

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