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Human Tooth Tissue Modeled in Chip Device


Tooth-on-a-chip device (Kristyna Wentz-Graff, Oregon Health and Science University)

20 Dec. 2019. Dentistry researchers created a model of a tooth that simulates on a plastic slide the architecture and dynamic stresses in human teeth. A team from the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland describes the device in yesterday’s issue of the journal Lab on a Chip (paid subscription required).

Researchers from the lab of OHSU dentistry school professor Luiz Bertassoni are seeking better ways to find more effective materials for preventing and repairing problems with teeth, as well as regenerating new tooth tissue. While biological and chemical functions in the mouth are widely studied, a lab model for simulating the unique bio-materials and environment has not yet been developed, even as other organ-on-chip models are becoming available.

The tooth-on-a-chip device is built on a small base of polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS, a silicone polymer used in many biomedical applications. The PDMS base holds a slice of dentin, the material that makes up much of the tooth tissue, from a human molar. The dentin slice is seeded with stem cells that transform into pulp tissue protected in the mouth by dentin.

The OHSU team designed the chip to learn more about the progression of tooth cavities and to test materials for filling those cavities. “Today’s cavity fillings don’t work as well as they should. They last for five, seven years on average, and then they break off,” says Bertassoni in a university statement. “They don’t work because we haven’t been able to figure out what’s happening at the interface of the tooth and the filling.”

The researchers used the chip to test several of today’s dental materials, and compared the results to standard testing methods. The results show the chip measured potential cell toxicity of the materials as well as current testing methods, but found the materials metabolized more on the chip than in off-chip tests. In addition, the researchers could track in real time interactions between dentin and pulp cells, suggesting a more prominent role for pulp cells in creating enzymes that contribute to tooth decay.

The researchers believe the tooth-on-a-chip can provide a valuable tool for dentists to find dental materials that better meet the molecular nature of individual patients. “Years from now,” notes Bertassoni, “dentists could extract a tooth from a patient, load it into this device, observe how a dental filling material interacts with the tooth, and pick a material that’s best for that particular patient.”

Bertassoni’s lab studies fabrication, including 3-D printing, of biomaterials for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. An invention from the lab, similar to tooth-on-a-chip, is BoneMimetics that provides a platform for drug discovery using more realistic bone models than currently available for preclinical studies. BoneMimetics uses a hydrogel material seeded with bone tissue cells that calcifies in a lab dish to form real bone, which received funding from the university’s technology transfer office to advance the innovation to the marketplace.

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