A team of researchers, led by scientists at the Queen Mary University of London, has uncovered a new approach to grow synthetic mineralized materials. This exciting breakthrough points to a future of regenerative medicine where doctors could mimic the regrowth of hard tissues including dental enamel and bone.

The enamel coating we have on our teeth is a highly mineralized substance that is extraordinarily strong. Maintaining that healthy enamel coating is one of the biggest challenges of modern dentistry as it can degrade over a person's lifetime and is also one of the tissues in the body that cannot regenerate.

Finding a way to stimulate enamel regeneration is a great challenge for modern material science, and over the past few years researchers have homed in on several compelling potential techniques. From using low-powered lasers to stimulate human dental stem cells to a peptide toothpaste formulation that could remineralize new enamel on teeth, scientists are investigating a variety of fascinating targets that could trigger hard tissue regeneration.

The latest development takes a different approach, exploiting a protein material that can guide the growth of apatite nanocrystals in a way that can structurally resemble dental enamel. This means that researchers can direct a synthetic nanomaterial to mineralize in a strongly controlled manner, resulting in the creation of synthetic structures that can imitate are variety of hard tissues.

"The key discovery has been the possibility to exploit disordered proteins to control and guide the process of mineralization at multiple scales," explains Alvaro Mata, lead author on the study. "Through this, we have developed a technique to easily grow synthetic materials that emulate such hierarchically organized architecture over large areas and with the capacity to tune their properties."

The research suggests a new process that can generate highly-ordered mineralized structures that can be fabricated into hard, strong membranes or coatings over native tissues. While the researchers initially discuss the dental opportunities made possible by this new process, it could potentially be applied to a variety of hard tissue repair scenarios, including bone.

"This is exciting because the simplicity and versatility of the mineralization platform opens up opportunities to treat and regenerate dental tissues," says first author on the study, Sherif Elsharkawy. "For example, we could develop acid resistant bandages that can infiltrate, mineralize, and shield exposed dentinal tubules of human teeth for the treatment of dentin hypersensitivity."

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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