Could teeth be on the edge of self-repair with stem cells?

The study in ‘Nature Communications’ shows that a gene called Dlk1 enhances stem cell activation and tissue regeneration in tooth healing.

Stem cells hold the key to wound healing, as they develop into specialised cell types throughout the body – including in teeth.

Now an international team of researchers has found a mechanism that could offer a potential novel solution to tooth repair.

Published today in Nature Communications, the study showed that a gene called Dlk1 enhances stem cell activation and tissue regeneration in tooth healing.

The work was led by Dr Bing Hu from the University of Plymouth’s Peninsula Dental School, with collaboration from researchers worldwide*.

The science behind the discovery

Dr Hu and his team discovered a new population of mesenchymal stem cells (the stem cells that make up skeletal tissue such as muscle and bone) in a continuously growing mouse incisor model. They showed that these cells contribute to the formation of tooth dentin, the hard tissue that covers the main body of a tooth.

Importantly, the work showed that when these stem cells are activated, they then send signals back to the mother cells of the tissue to control the number of cells produced, through a molecular gene called Dlk1. This paper is the first to show that Dlk1 is vital for this process to work.

In the same report, the researchers also proved that Dlk1 can enhance stem cell activation and tissue regeneration in a tooth wound healing model. This mechanism could provide a novel solution for tooth reparation, dealing with problems such as tooth decay and crumbling (known as caries) and trauma treatment.

Further studies need to take place to validate the findings for clinical applications, in order to ascertain the appropriate treatment duration and dose, but these early steps in an animal model are exciting, as Dr Hu explains.

What the authors say

Dr Hu, who is also part of the University’s Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine (ITSMed), said:

“Stem cells are so important, as, in the future, they could be used by laboratories to regenerate tissues that have been damaged or lost due to disease – so it’s vital to understand how they work. By uncovering both the new stem cells that make the main body of a tooth and establishing their vital use of Dlk1 in regenerating the tissue, we have taken major steps in understanding stem cell regeneration.

“The work has taken place in lab models at this stage, and further work needs to be done before we can bring them in to human use. But it’s a really big breakthrough in regenerative medicine that could have huge implications for patients in future.”

Professor Christopher Tredwin, Head of Peninsula Dental School and co-author of the paper, said:

“We are highly excited by the recent progresses in Dr Bing Hu’s group. This new work, together with a recent high-impact paper published in The EMBO Journal (doi: 10.15252/embj.201899845), which is about another type of stem cells in the tooth: epithelial stem cells, puts Plymouth at the front of the world’s dental and craniofacial stem cell research and regenerative medicine. We expect those researchers will soon provide dental patients better time and cost-effective solutions to serious tooth problems – from trauma to caries.”

 

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Ocean acidification could have serious consequences for millions of people globally

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Scientists say that only significant cuts in fossil fuel emissions will prevent changes to the environment becoming more widespread

Ocean acidification could have serious consequences for the millions of people globally whose lives depend on coastal protection, fisheries and aquaculture, a new publication suggests.

Writing in Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, scientists say that only significant cuts in fossil fuel emissions will prevent the changes already evident in areas with projected future carbon dioxide levels becoming more widespread.

They also call for a binding international agreement that builds on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to minimise and address the impacts of ocean acidification.

The article was written by Jason Hall-Spencer, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth, and Plymouth graduate Dr Ben Harvey, now Assistant Professor at the University of Tsukuba’s Shimoda Marine Research Center.

They and other collaborators have published several studies over the past decade that show the threats posed by ocean acidification in terms of habitat degradation and a loss of biodiversity.

These have centered around the coast of Japan, where they demonstrated ocean acidification is having a major impact on marine life, and in the Mediterranean where they showed it was having a negative impact on wild fish.

Both regions have volcanic CO2 seeps, where the escaping gas dissolves into the sea water and creates conditions similar to that expected to occur worldwide in the coming years.

Their new publication provides a synthesis of the likely effects of ocean acidification on ecosystem properties, functions and services and is based on laboratory experiments and observations along natural gradients in CO2.

It says that studies at CO2 seeps worldwide have shown that reefs made by organisms with shells or skeletons, such oysters or corals, are sensitive to ocean acidification and that degraded reefs provide less coastal protection and less habitat for commercially important fish and shellfish.

This amplifies the risks to marine goods and services from climate change causing shifts to seaweed dominance, habitat degradation and a loss of biodiversity in the tropics, the sub-tropics and on temperate coasts.

Dr Harvey, who graduated from the BSc (Hons) Ocean Science programme in 2008, said:

“We are releasing around 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per hour into the earth’s atmosphere. About 25% of this gas is taken up by the ocean where it reacts with seawater to form a weak acid, causing surface ocean pH to fall by around 0.002 units per year. The chemistry of this rapid change in surface waters is understood, yet there is uncertainty about its effects on society which is what we are trying to overcome in this study.”

Professor Hall-Spencer, the publication’s lead author, added said:

“The Paris Agreement on climate change was welcome. But it does not mention ocean acidification, nor the fact that this rapid change in surface ocean chemistry undermines the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development. The time is ripe for a ‘Paris Agreement for the oceans’, with the specific target to minimise and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.”

Learn more: Ocean acidification ‘could have consequences for millions’

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Billions of nanoplastics accumulate in marine organisms within six hours

These are some of the scallops used as part of the current research.
CREDIT
University of Plymouth

The research, led by the University of Plymouth, examined the uptake of nanoparticles by a commercially important mollusc, the great scallop (Pecten maximus).

After six hours exposure in the laboratory, billions of particles measuring 250nm (around 0.00025mm) had accumulated within the scallop’s intestines.

However, considerably more even smaller particles measuring 20nm (0.00002mm) had become dispersed throughout the body including the kidney, gill, muscle and other organs.

The study is the first to quantify the uptake of nanoparticles at predicted environmentally relevant conditions, with previous research having been conducted at far higher concentrations than scientists believe are found in our oceans.

Dr Maya Al Sid Cheikh, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Plymouth, led the study. She said: “For this experiment, we needed to develop an entirely novel scientific approach. We made nanoparticles of plastic in our laboratories and incorporated a label so that we could trace the particles in the body of the scallop at environmentally relevant concentrations. The results of the study show for the first time that nanoparticles can be rapidly taken up by a marine organism, and that in just a few hours they become distributed across most of the major organs.”

Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Head of the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, added: “This is a ground breaking study, in terms of both the scientific approach and the findings. We only exposed the scallops to nanoparticles for a few hours and, despite them being transferred to clean conditions, traces were still present several weeks later. Understanding the dynamics of nanoparticle uptake and release, as well as their distribution in body tissues, is essential if we are to understand any potential effects on organisms. A key next step will be to use this approach to guide research investigating any potential effects of nanoparticles and in particular to consider the consequences of longer term exposures.”

Accepted for publication in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, the study also involved scientists from the Charles River Laboratories in Elphinstone, Scotland; the Institute Maurice la Montagne in Canada; and Heriot-Watt University.

It was conducted as part of RealRiskNano, a £1.1million project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Led by Heriot-Watt and Plymouth, it is exploring the effects which microscopic plastic particles can have on the marine environment.

In this study, the scallops were exposed to quantities of carbon-radiolabeled nanopolystyrene and after six hours, autoradiography was used to show the number of particles present in organs and tissue.

It was also used to demonstrate that the 20nm particles were no longer detectable after 14 days, whereas 250nm particles took 48 days to disappear.

Ted Henry, Professor of Environmental Toxicology at Heriot-Watt University, said: “Understanding whether plastic particles are absorbed across biological membranes and accumulate within internal organs is critical for assessing the risk these particles pose to both organism and human health. The novel use of radiolabelled plastic particles pioneered in Plymouth provides the most compelling evidence to date on the level of absorption of plastic particles in a marine organism.”

Learn more: Billions of nanoplastics accumulate in marine organisms within six hours

 

 

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Robots can significantly influence children’s opinions

via University of Plymouth

A study published in Science Robotics provides an interesting insight into how robots could be used positively within society
Young children are significantly more likely than adults to have their opinions and decisions influenced by robots, according to new research.The study, conducted at the University of Plymouth, compared how adults and children respond to an identical task when in the presence of both their peers and humanoid robots.It showed that while adults regularly have their opinions influenced by peers, something also demonstrated in previous studies, they are largely able to resist being persuaded by robots.

However, children aged between seven and nine were more likely to give the same responses as the robots, even if they were obviously incorrect.

The study used the Asch paradigm, first developed in the 1950s, which asks people to look at a screen showing four lines and say which two match in length. When alone, people almost never make a mistake but when doing the experiment with others, they tend to follow what others are saying.

When children were alone in the room in this research, they scored 87 per cent on the test, but when the robots join in their score drops to 75 per cent. And of the wrong answers, 74 per cent matched those of the robot.

Writing in Science Robotics, scientists say the study provides an interesting insight into how robots could be used positively within society. However, they also say it does raise some concerns around the potential for robots to have a negative influence on vulnerable young children.The research was led by former Plymouth researcher Anna Vollmer, now a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Bielefeld, and Professor in Robotics Tony Belpaeme, from the University of Plymouth and Ghent University.Professor Belpaeme said:

“People often follow the opinions of others and we’ve known for a long time that it is hard to resist taking over views and opinions of people around us. We know this as conformity. But as robots will soon be found in the home and the workplace, we were wondering if people would conform to robots.

“What our results show is that adults do not conform to what the robots are saying. But when we did the experiment with children, they did. It shows children can perhaps have more of an affinity with robots than adults, which does pose the question: what if robots were to suggest, for example, what products to buy or what to think?”

Researchers in Plymouth have worked extensively to explore the positive impact robots can have in health and education settings.

They led the four-year ALIZ-E programme, which showed that social robots can help diabetic children accept the nature of their condition, and are leading L2TOR, which aims to design a robot that can be used to support preschool children learning a second language.

In their conclusion to the current study, the researchers add:

“A future in which autonomous social robots are used as aids for education professionals or child therapists is not distant. In these applications, the robot is in a position in which the information provided can significantly affect the individuals they interact with. A discussion is required about whether protective measures, such as a regulatory framework, should be in place that minimise the risk to children during social child-robot interaction and what form they might take so as not to adversely affect the promising development of the field.”

 

 

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Machine learning could predict undiagnosed dementia in primary care

Improving dementia care through increased and timely diagnosis is an NHS priority, yet around half of those living with dementia live with the condition unaware.

Now a new machine-learning model that scans routinely collected NHS data has shown promising signs of being able to predict undiagnosed dementia in primary care.

Led by the University of Plymouth, the study collected Read-encoded data from 18 consenting GP surgeries across Devon, UK, for 26,483 patients aged over 65.

The Read codes – a thesaurus of clinical terms used to summarise clinical and administrative data for UK GPs – were assessed on whether they may contribute to dementia risk, with factors included such as weight and blood pressure.

These codes were used to train a machine-learning classification model to identify patients that may have underlying dementia.

The results showed that 84 per cent of people who had dementia were detected as having the condition (sensitivity value) while 87 per cent of people without dementia had been correctly acknowledged as not having the condition (specificity value), according to the data.

These results indicate that the model can detect those with underlying dementia with an accuracy of 84 per cent. This suggests that the machine-learning model could, in future, significantly reduce the number of those living with undiagnosed dementia – from around 50 per cent (current estimated figure) to 8 per cent*.

Principal Investigator Professor Emmanuel Ifeachor, from the School of Computing Electronics and Mathematics at the University of Plymouth, said the results were promising.

“Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) where systems automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed,” he said. “It’s already being used for many applications throughout healthcare such as medical imaging, but using it for patient data has not been done in quite this way before. The methodology is promising and, if successfully developed and deployed, may help to increase dementia diagnosis in primary care.”

Dr Camille Carroll, Consultant Neurologist at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and Researcher in the Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine at the University of Plymouth, collaborated on the research.

She said:

“Dementia is a disease with so many different contributing factors, and it can be quite difficult to pinpoint or predict. There is strong epidemiological evidence that a number of cardiovascular and lifestyle factors such as hypertension; high cholesterol; diabetes; obesity; stroke; atrial fibrillation; smoking; and reduced cognitive, physical, or social activities can predict the risk of dementia in later life, but no studies have taken place that allow us to see this quickly. So having tools that can take a vast amount of data, and automatically identify patients with possible dementia, to facilitate targeted screening, could potentially be very useful and help improve diagnosis rates.”

Learn more: Dementia could be detected via routinely collected data, new research shows

 

 

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