A number of local dentists are among the first in Northern Ireland to offer a pioneering procedure that could treat disorders such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, MS and Alzheimer’s.
The procedure, which was introduced into the province in June, involves removing stem cells from teeth and storing them in a cell bank in London where they will be kept for up to 30 years.
The harvested stem cells can be taken from baby teeth, wisdom teeth and orthodontic extractions, and already a number of people have expressed an interest in it.
Markethill dentist Paul Reaney carried out the procedure three months ago when he extracted two teeth from a 12-year-old with Type 1 diabetes.
He said: “I probably wouldn’t have been aware of it (the service) had the family not contacted me. The patient’s parents had already decided they wanted this done.”
Since finding out about bank cell company Precious Cells and undergoing training, he has also stored his 12-year-old son Andrew’s tooth for stem cells in case he becomes ill.
Mr Reaney said that while the service offers “no promises”, the potential is there. He added: “We can store the cells. The next big phase is how we use them – that is where research is focused now.
“When people first spoke about test tube babies it seemed like that could never be achieved but it has helped so many people. Who knows what medical advances will be achieved in the next 30 years?”
He added: “Stem cells are like a dentist’s building block. The earlier you get them the better. There is less chance of rejection if the stem cells are our own, or a close family member’s, rather than a donor’s.
“Stem cells are in the pulp of the tooth and these are teeth that would be coming out anyway. Stem cells have been successfully used in stroke case trials, and are being used in treatment for Crohn’s disease.
“If you take an immature stem cell you can persuade it to grow into bone, nerve or cartilage. They can be used to help any diseased part of the body repair itself.”