Saturday, April 13, 2024

Japan Develops World’s First ‘Tooth Regrowth Medicine’

A research team in Japan is making steady progress on the development of a groundbreaking drug- one that may allow people to grow new teeth. Clinical trials are set to begin in the summer of 2024.

The ‘tooth regrowth’ medication, which they are currently developing, is intended for those who lack a full set of teeth due to congenital conditions. The team’s goal is to have it ready for widespread use in 2030.

While clinical trials have not yet begun, preliminary animal testing has shown to be promising, with the drug prompting the growth of ‘third generation’ teeth following baby teeth, as well as permanent adult teeth.

katsu takahashi
Katsu Takahashi, the lead researcher in the study, is the head of the dentistry and oral surgery faculty at the Medicine Research Institute Kitano Hospital

According to lead researcher Katsu Takahashi, who is the head of the oral surgery and dentistry department at the Medical Research Institute Kitano Hospital, ‘[he] has been working on this since [he] was a graduate student.’ and that he has been ‘confident that [he’d] be able to make it happen’.

One of the congenital conditions that the ‘tooth regrowth’ medication will treat is anodontia, which causes individuals to grow less than a full set of teeth. A rare condition, it affects only one percent of the population. Genetic factors are currently believed to be the major cause of one-tenth of oligodontia cases, a condition where an individual lacks more than six teeth.

tooth regrowth drug ferret
Takahashi and his team successfully treated a ferret with the ‘tooth regrowth’ drug, which caused the growth of an additional seventh front tooth

Those who grow up with these conditions often struggle with basic abilities such as speaking, swallowing, and chewing from a young age, which can have a negative impact on their development.

Following obtaining his dentistry degree, Takahashi went to Kyoto University, where he did graduate studies in molecular biology. He then traveled to the U.S. for further studies.

Coincidentally, it was around that time that researchers began to identify genes that could cause mice to grow fewer teeth. This made Takahashi realize the possibility of developing a treatment that may change the number of teeth a person has.

mouse regrowth tooth
A mouse treated with the ‘tooth regrowth’ drug grew an additional tooth at the back of the mouth

As he delved further into the subject, researchers noticed that mice lacking a specific gene cause them to have an increased number of teeth. They later found that the gene synthesized a protein called USAG-1, which blocks the growth of additional teeth.

With that, Takahashi and his team began to develop an antibody medication that blocks and neutralizes the protein. In 2018, they successfully developed a drug that when given to mice with congenital anodontia, causes the growth of new teeth. The results from the study were subsequently published in a U.S. scientific journal in 2021.

They are currently working on getting the drug ready for human use. For that, clinical trials will be necessary to determine whether or not there are any negative effects on the human body.

The Drug Can Be a Game Changer

If the drug is successful in humans, it may be a game-changer for the entire dentistry field. For one thing, it may help those with severe cavities or other dental conditions, which cause them to rely on dentures and other dental appliances.

While some animals such as sharks can continuously regrow teeth, humans have long been believed to only grow two sets in their lifetime. However, recent evidence has shown that we may also have ‘buds’ for a third set.

Currently, it’s estimated that one percent of the population has hyperdontia, a congenital condition that causes a person to have more teeth than usual. According to Takahashi and his team, one-third of these cases result in the growth of a third set of teeth.

Brooke Carter
Brooke Carter
Freelance writer who loves dogs and anything related to Japanese culture.
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