Stem cell research may benefit siblings with diabetes

SCARSDALE, New York (WABC) -- Having your wisdom teeth extracted can be a painful experience for most people undergoing the surgery, but for one family, it has more benefits that what most people would expect.

Steven Lewis, a 20-year-old college student, checks his blood sugar about four times a day. He and 16-year-old sister Hannah both have type one diabetes, and they're hoping that their teeth, of all things, can help combat their disease one day.

When Steven had his wisdom teeth removed and Hannah needed some baby teeth extracted, their mom banked those teeth with a lab that harvests stem cells.

"I knew also that I had not banked my children's cord blood, and that was something disappointing to me," she said. "So then when I learned that Store-A-Tooth was developing stem cells from people's teeth, I had a wonderful opportunity to do it."

Dr. Gary Orentlicher removed Steven's wisdom teeth, which needed to come out anyway.

"You're essentially taking a tooth out and sending it to a company which is harvesting the stem cells," Dr. Orentlicher said.

Store-A-Tooth describes how those cells are harvested from the dental pulp, that's why this works best when a tooth is extracted. Baby teeth are preferable.

While stem cells have been used to treat leukemia and some other diseases, the stem cells harvested from teeth haven't been used in any such way of yet. ABC's Dr. Richard Besser says people should have realistic expectations.

"In the future, they maybe able to generate stem cells even from a swap of your cheek or a piece of skin," he said. "There's really nothing to say teeth will be the answer to this. There's really no reason to do it."

The cost to store a tooth begins at about $850, and then there is an annual fee of about $120. For the Lewis family, though, it is a worthwhile investment.

"It's not terribly expensive," Lewis said. "When you weigh the pros and cons, it's well worth having those stem cells there waiting for the possibility that they can be used."

Steven, who is working at a stem cell lab this summer while on break from Yale, agrees.

"It's an additional insurance card," he said. "In terms of something does come along, we have these cells. And treatment, we'd be ready for it."
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