Repairing damaged teeth by re-growing tissue – an interview with Professor Paul Sharpe of King’s College London. His research and studies are mainly focused on the molecular control of tooth development, tissue engineering, and dental stem cells.
Professor Sharpe, could you please tell us in lay person’s terms about regenerating teeth in an adult person, based on your research?
Current dental treatments involve the use of inorganic materials such as cements that are glued in place into the hole in the tooth made by the dentist‘s drill or following trauma that damages the tooth.
Teeth have a capacity to repair themselves following damage from trauma or caries. This involves stem cells in the soft inner tissue, the tooth pulp. This natural repair, however, only works for small lesions. We have developed a way of enhancing the repair by adding a drug that activates the stem cells.
What is the stage you have reached, and when do you envisage this boon will become a reality for the average person?
We have tested a number of drugs and delivery sytems in rodents in order to optimise all the conditions for trials in humans within the next 2 years.
What are the risks involved?
As far as we believe, none. The drugs have already been tested in patients at much higher concentrations than we use and have shown minimal side effects.
Compared with implants, how affordable or expensive will this technology be?
We are not intending to replace implants, our technology is for repair, not regeneration. The cost will be similar to the current cement-based treatments.
Will an average, competent dentist be able to offer your methods eventually with retraining, or will this have to be done by specialists?
Any high street dentist has the skills to use this product, which are called ReDent.
What have been the stumbling blocks that you have faced during your research?
The main one that has proven problematic is being able to effectively seal the tooth during the repair process.
Please tell us about your growing up years and who motivated you?
My parents, obviously. I am from a working class background, from the industrial north. My family were miners and my dad an engineer. I was the first of the family to go to university, and their pride was the only motivation I needed. My university education was entirely paid for by the state as was common at that time. I doubt I would ever have been able to attend university without this.
Aside from your work, what are your interests?
Music. I play bass guitar, sing, and co-write songs in my band, 2.3. We were an original punk/new wave band in 1977 and recently reformed. Our latest release is available on iTunes and Spotify….2.3 EP. I played football for many years and am a lifelong supporterr of Sheffield United, the Super Blades.
Professor Sharpe, our readership mainly consists of young adults in different parts of the world, and they do look up to the educated elite and high achievers such as you for inspiration. A word of advice for them?
Never be afraid to be wrong…it‘s how you learn.
Photos: From the archive of Professor Sharpe
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