Health

Stem cell project needs 12,000 baby teeth

Artist's impression of castle
Image caption Artist's impression of castle needing tooth decoration

Art and science have united for a project needing 12,000 baby teeth.

The pearly whites are needed to decorate a "coral castle" which is designed to inspire debate about adult stem cells.

The idea came from a meeting between Professor Sara Rankin, a biologist at Imperial College London, and the artist Gina Czarnecki.

They say arguments about stem cells are focused mostly on the ethics of using embryos.

Professor Rankin said: "Ask a roomful of people where do stem cells come from and they will say embryos. What about fat? We can get a lot of stem cells in liposuction. There are different types of stem cell and people are not aware of that.

"We want to promote awareness about adult stem cells, such as those found in bone marrow or umbilical cord, which could be used to develop new treatments without any ethical issues."

Image caption Elisha has donated her tooth

Dental pulp

The dental pulp in milk teeth is another, albeit small, source of adult stem cells. Some scientists are trying to grow new teeth using these cells.

Children are being asked to donate their teeth to the project, called Palaces, which will then create a magical sculpture out of them.

The project is making sure the children will not lose out financially by giving them an "IOU one milk tooth" token to give to the tooth fairy.

The finished artwork will be 2m high, made of crystal resin and then decorated with milk teeth.

Ms Czarnecki said: "The tooth is so connected to myth and legend and fairies. They also represent a rite of passage for children and a change of consciousness.

"Different cultures have different traditions about where these teeth go, and what they are used for.

"We're looking to explore the questions this raises about the value of waste matter and our attitudes to our own bodies as sources and beneficiaries of recyclable material."

The artwork will go on display at the Bluecoat in Liverpool in December and then move to the Science Museum in London next year.

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