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Studying Human Tooth Regeneration with the Help of Sharks

Did you know sharks can help us understand human tooth regeneration? This newly discovered knowledge comes very useful as 66 percent of Americans aged between 40 and 64 have lost their natural teeth. With this new study, researchers seek to shed light to how sharks regenerate their teeth, bringing more understanding to human tooth regrowth.

Sharks can have as much as 3,000 teeth at any one time. What’s even more amazing is that they can continuously regrow their teeth, even after losing at least 30,000 teeth throughout their lifetime. If they lose a tooth, a new one emerges in just a couple of days.

The processes underlying this natural mechanism is not yet clear. This is what researchers, led by Dr. Gareth Fraser, seek to understand.

Dr. Fraser, of U.K.’s University of Sheffield Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, and his colleagues have discovered a network of genes that cause teeth development and regeneration in sharks. They added that humans have the same set of genes. Their study was published in the journal Developmental Biology.

Humans Possess the Same Regenerative Trait as Sharks

The researchers found out that humans and sharks share similar gene expression patterns that contribute to the formation of dental lamina—a set of epithelial cells that promote continuous regrowth of teeth in sharks. Dr. Fraser and his team, however, noted that once an individual’s adult teeth are fully grown, dental lamina is lost. This discovery could help in developing new treatments for people who lost their teeth, they added.

“What it means is because we have the same genes to make teeth, we also have a regenerative program,” Dr. Fraser said. “The point is at some level it's not so far-fetched we can use and re-utilize what nature has provided.”

Even if we lose these teeth-regenerative cells, the researchers are hopeful of the possibility of reinvigorating them.

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