Researchers at the University of Birmingham, UK, led by Dr. Ben Scheven, Dr. Wendy Leadbeater and Ben Mead have discovered that stem cells isolated from the teeth, termed dental pulp stem cells (DPSC), can protect retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) from death following injury and promote regeneration of their axons along the optic nerve.
RGC loss is the leading cause of blindness and can arise through traumatic injury or degenerative diseases such as glaucoma. Neurotrophic factors (NTFs), which travel along the axon of a neuron to a cell body act as survival signals however, following injury or disease, this supply is lost and RGCs die. Supplementation of injured RGC with an alternative source of NTFs is paramount to protecting them from death.
The study, reported on Neural Regeneration Research (Vol. 9, No. 6, 2014), confirmed that DPSCs naturally express multiple NTFs which can supplement the lost supply of NTF and protect RGCs from death as well as promote regeneration of their axons. "Cell therapy is a promising treatment option as it provides a potentially limitless source of multiple growth factors for injured neurons", stressed first author Ben Mead. He also said "For clinical application, comparisons with other stem cells as well as development of safe delivery mechanisms are to be investigated in the future".