The first week of October my daughter and I journeyed to London for a revolutionary procedure in dental care, stem cell harvesting from extracted deciduous teeth. A few years ago it was discovered that stem cells are found in teeth, and not only in bone marrow. In many aspects, these stem cells are superior to those found in bone marrow and extracting them is a non-invasive procedure, unlike painful bone marrow aspiration.
My interest in this procedure was sparked because of my own daughter’s struggle with chronic Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a platelet disorder in which the patient destroys their platelets, which can create a dangerous inability to form clots. Her diagnosis came on November 1, 2014, after a night of trick-or-treating as a witch, in full green makeup. That morning, when I rolled over to look at my darling girl, I noticed that she had bruises on her face, and her gums were bleeding. We rushed her to our family doctor who stated that we needed to get her to the hospital that day to figure out what was wrong. After testing and waiting, we discovered that the reasons for the bruising and bleeding were due to crisis level, low platelet counts. In essence, she had no ability to protect her body from injury. The facial bruising was from removing her Halloween makeup the night before, and the bleeding gums from dryness as she mouth-breathed throughout the night.
Since that time we have been managing her ITP with weekly blood draws to check her platelet levels, and injections of a medicine designed to boost her own body’s production of platelets. However, she continues to decimate the higher level of platelets each week. While ITP patients usually resolve the condition on their own within a year, without medical intervention, unfortunately, my daughter has not been as lucky. The other alternatives to weekly hospital visits for blood draws and shots are even worse, with splenectomy and immune system obliteration with chemotherapeutics the only other options our daughter has been offered.
In our circumstance, I decided that I could not miss out on opportunity to bank my daughter’s stem cells while she was losing deciduous teeth. With a lack of appealing, non-invasive treatment options for her, I decided that I needed to pursue this as a way to “cure” my child. Although there is no definitive stem cell application for her yet, the hope is that this type of medical care will someday be the standard of care for treatments in nearly every major disease, condition, and injury in the human body. Currently there is exciting research occurring on the applications of stem cells in spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Autism, sports injuries, burn healing, juvenile diabetes, Crohn’s disease, fibrosis of the lungs, and many others.
In the future, the hope is that stem cells will rival the positions that big pharmaceutical companies have over the medical field. Personalized medicine, in which a patient’s own stem cells could be re-introduced to their bodies, which could help treat diseases, instead of merely managing the symptoms with medications.
I took her to Dr. Neil Counihan’s clinic in London where they routinely remove deciduous teeth, preserve them, and quickly expedite the extracted teeth to a stem cell bank. Although I could have chosen to do this at a US facility, there is a much greater chance of a breakthrough in stem cell research in Europe due to a combination of fewer regulations from governmental agencies (such as the FDA), and far less political interference with stem cell development. The procedure was extraordinarily straightforward and quick. Since Kallia is a regular visitor to our local hospital, she is no stranger to needle sticks, and I could not have been more proud of her behavior. It was even easier because her primary teeth were already quite loose. The implications that my child could be treated using a primary tooth, which normally would be thrown away as medical waste, is a game changer.
Please consider that this could not only help private patients, like my daughter, willing to invest and bank their stem cells for their personal use, but what if a centralized stem cell bank could also become a reality? It could have the ability to treat people who simply donate their primary teeth for medical research. If a centralized stem cell bank could be started with a large variety of tissue types, medicine as we know it could be radically changed.
I plan to update Dr. KateTalks regularly with information regarding the ways that stem cell research is impacting our world. Not only is it near and dear to my heart, as my own daughter could be treated with stem cells, but it is a ground-breaking, bio-medical technology that could affect medical and dental care as we know it. Keep your fingers crossed, I know I am. . . .
Special thanks to my dental colleague and buddy, Dr. Neil Counihan for his exemplary care and courtesy while we were in London. Not only did he connect me with the stem cell bank, educate me on the in's and out's of stem cell research, and welcome us all to London in his very pleasant office, but he also took care of my niece and sister-in-law. His expertise in orthodontics and stem cell research (I know an odd but brilliant combination!) are second to none. I feel blessed that I was connected to him.