Stem cells are widely used for treating blood cancers, but their much-touted promise for curing Parkinson’s Disease or spinal injuries is considered in the distant future at best.
But at Columbia University’s new Center for Cranio-facial Regeneration, scientists believe it won't be too long before they can use stem cells to build some of the nuts and bolts of the human face.
Dr. Jeremy Mao said some components are already being generated in animals, such as "dental pulp," the crucial material under teeth.
"That's only a part of a tooth," he said. "I would like to believe that's three to five years away [in humans]. A tooth is a complex organ, and that, I would like to think is in the ballpark of five to 10 years."
Mao hopes by bringing together 60 researchers from the university's medical, dental and engineering schools, they'll be able to create parts, one by one, and gradually bring them together.
His team has already been able to use stem cells to basically mold the equivalent of a dental implant – for a goat.
Columbia's committing $8 million dollars to the enterprise, and the scientists, cumulatively, will be bringing with them tens of millions worth of grants from the National Institutes of Health.