• Be Brasil
  • Innovation and technology

fev 16, 2017
Innovation and technology

Brazilian startup uses milk teeth to harvest stem cells

Who would have thought that the tooth fairy could come in the form of a stem cell scientist? Well, one 48-year-old Brazilian dentist and scientist, José Ricardo Muniz Ferreira, has discovered a way to harvest up to 7 million stem cells from a single extracted baby tooth. 

Ferreira's startup, R-Crio, stores the stem cells from the pulp of a child's milk tooth in case of later medical treatment, personalized to the child's body. Once the child has a loose tooth, he or she must visit an accredited dentist to examine and collect it. Over 2,000 dentists are accredited with R-Crio to extract baby teeth in such a way that would preserve their value for stem cell extraction. Milk teeth that have fallen on their own, or through home remedies, are not accepted by R-Crio due to high contamination risk. However, only one tooth is necessary for stem cell harvest - so the rest of the 19 baby teeth can still go straight under the pillow.

After extraction, the tooth has 48 hours to get to R-Crio's laboratories, headquartered in Campinas, São Paulo. Once there, scientists harvest the stem cells within the tooth's pulp. R-Crio also stores the stem cells for an indeterminate period so that the parents can request them whenever necessary. 

And what exactly might these stem cells be used for? Actually, stem cells can transform into a number of different corporal cells, including muscle, skin, bone, pancreas, liver, lung fibers, nerve tissue, heart tissue, and cartilage. Treatments using stem cells can potentially cure illnesses otherwise considered incurable, including diabetes, Alzheimer's, and autism. Such treatments can even be applied to everyday accidents, such as burns or fractures. 

Stem cell treatments are increasingly more accessible and effective, making stem cell storage and harvesting all the more essential to modern medicine. 

R-Crio's method of harvesting stem cells from baby teeth also revolutionized the field of stem cell research. Before, stem cells were harvested from the blood of a baby's umbilical cord, a scientific revelation dating back to the 1960s. However, this method only allows for one opportunity for collection at the time of birth. Furthermore, the stem cells gathered from the umbilical cord do not have the possibility of being multiplied, and can only be applied to blood cells. Yet harvesting from baby teeth allows parents twenty separate occassions to gather their child's stem cells, with ample possibilities to multiply and transform them into diverse types of body cells. 

R-Crio's founder studied dentristry at the prestigious Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES), where he has also taught as a professor. Ferreira worked as a dentist for 20 years in his own private clinic in the state capital of Vitória. While pursuing further education in regenerative medicine, Ferreira discovered the harvesting potential of milk teeth by coincidence. 

Together with his partners, the stem cell researcher Maria Rita Bueno, as well as the biologist in human genetics Roberto Fanganiello, both from the São Paulo University, Ferreira designed the process of stem cell collection from baby teeth that would launch R-Crio. In 2013, the scientists patented their design. Once they received a Cell Technology Center (CTC) license from the National Health Agency (Anvisa), R-Crio finally opened for commercial operations. 

Today, the entire service offered by R-Crio, from tooth extraction to stem cell storage, costs R$2,980, about $951. Over $6 million was invested to get the laboratories up and running. Returns on the investment look promising, as profits for their first year alone are estimated at $2.9 million.