Japanese scientists are reportedly set to start human trials for a drug that can regrow teeth. All being well, the clinical trial will start next year and a tooth regeneration therapy could be ready for people with holey smiles as early as 2030, according to Japanese media.
Back in 2021, a team from the Graduate School of Medicine at Kyoto University published promising research that showed a protein called USAG-1 limits the growth of teeth in mice. By turning off the gene that codes for the production of the protein, the mice were able to freely regrow their teeth.
They were then able to create a neutralizing antibody drug therapy that was able to block the protein's function, stimulating the mice into growing new sets of teeth. Later experiments showed the same benefits in ferrets, which have a more similar dental pattern to humans.
Animal studies are all well and good for early research, but the team is now keen to see whether the treatment works well in humans. As reported by Japanese newspaper Mainichi, clinical trials are set to begin in July 2024.
"The idea of growing new teeth is every dentist's dream. I've been working on this since I was a graduate student. I was confident I'd be able to make it happen," Katsu Takahashi, head of the Dentistry & Oral Surgery department at the Medical Research Institute Kitano Hospital in Osaka, told the newspaper.
“We hope to pave the way for the medicine's clinical use," he added.
In the US, over 25 percent of adults aged 65 or older have eight or fewer teeth, while 17 percent of older people have lost all of their teeth, according to the CDC. This can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and severely hamper their ability to eat a healthy diet.
In theory, this new treatment being developed in Japan could allow people in this position to regrow their lost teeth just like how kids sprout new gnashers after their milk teeth fall out. The researchers described the new process as sparking a "third-generation" of tooth regeneration, the first generation being the emergence of milk teeth in babies and the second being the permanent adult teeth that pop out later in childhood.
The suggestion that the drug therapy could be available for general use as early as the start of the next decade sounds pretty optimistic, but its clear the team believe they’re onto something.