A shark’s menacing teeth can scare anyone out of the water — but one aspect of some sharks’ existence may be worth emulating: their ability to regrow teeth.
An experimental medicine in Japan that could revolutionize the field of dentistry is now moving to clinical trials to create, potentially, the world’s first medicine to regrow teeth, according to a recent report in the country’s national news site, the Mainichi.
Those eligible to participate in the trial will be patients who have not developed a full set of teeth due to factors that occur during birth, according to the report.
The medical term for the genetic condition is known as anodontia, meaning the complete absence of teeth; in partial anodontia, people are missing some of their teeth, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).
Health care providers start to suspect the dental condition when babies don’t develop teeth by the time they are 13 months old, said the Cleveland Clinic.
These patients often have difficulty with chewing and speaking, which can negatively affect their digestion, cause gum damage and also stunt jawbone growth, Cleveland Clinic added.
The clinical trials are due to begin in July 2024 in Japan.
If successful, the medicine could be available for regulatory approval by 2030, according to the report.
‘Idea of growing new teeth’
“The idea of growing new teeth is every dentist’s dream,” Dr. Katsu Takahashi, lead researcher of the study and head of the dentistry and oral surgery department at the Medical Research Institute Kitano Hospital, told Mainichi.
Takahashi has been working on making his dream a reality since his days as a graduate student, according to reports.
After dental school, Takahashi pursued graduate studies in molecular biology at Kyoto University in 1991 in Kyoto, Japan.
Upon his graduation, he traveled to the United States when research at the time was starting to discover genes that could cause mice to grow fewer teeth.
Fox News Digital reached out to Dr. Katsu Takahashi for comment.
“There are decades’ worth of studies related to various ways of growing human tooth tissue,” Dr. Erinne Kennedy, American Dental Association spokesperson and director of pre-doctoral dental education at Kansas City University’s College of Dental Medicine in Missouri, told Fox News Digital.
Takahashi learned that the number of teeth varied only with only one gene mutation — so he decided to do further research by targeting specific genes that could potentially grow teeth.
Relatively new research
Armed with new inspiration, he returned to Kyoto University around 2005 to work with researchers who discovered a gene that made a protein called USAG-1, which limits the number of teeth that can grow.
This seemed to mean that “blocking” this protein could grow more teeth — so his research team developed an antibody that latched onto the protein to block its function.
Kennedy, who was not part of the study, noted the research regarding neutralizing antibody therapy to generate tooth tissue is relatively new.
In 2018 lab experiments, mice that developed only a small number of teeth grew new teeth after they received the antibody medicine.
Mice that developed only a small number of teeth grew new teeth after they received the antibody medicine.
The Japanese research team published the research findings in Science Advances in 2021, concluding that USAG-1 controls the number of teeth by inhibiting their development.
“It seems the research is at the initial stage and is projected to conduct a clinical trial in the extreme cases of [lacking all teeth due to] congenital disease,” Takahiro Ogawa, D.D.S., PhD, told Fox News Digital.
Ogawa, who was not involved in the research, is a professor and interim primary investigator at the Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology at UCLA School of Dentistry in Los Angeles.
Ogawa cautioned that while the results of the study are exciting, the research has some challenges — as it is not easy to control the shape, location and number of teeth to regrow.
“The researchers used animal models, so it remains to be seen how applicable the findings are to humans,” Kennedy of the American Dental Association also emphasized.
If future research is successful, the medicine potentially could be broadened one day to include more common conditions that cause people to lose their teeth, such as gum disease.
“We are looking forward to seeing further development of the technology.”
“Severe tooth loss — having eight or fewer teeth — impacts the ability to eat meats, fruits and vegetables, and presents yet another challenge to having a healthy diet,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on its website.
Approximately a quarter of adults in the U.S. ages 65 or older have eight or fewer teeth, while nearly one in six adults aged 65 or older have lost all their teeth, the CDC added.
“We are looking forward to seeing further development of the technology to overcome those challenges, optimize the protocol, and establish safety and reliability,” Ogawa said.