You are a veterinarian by training; how did you become interested in working with human stem cells?
Looking back now on how God has directed my life I can see the “why” in many situations, when earlier I was asking why.
When I graduated from college, I was not immediately accepted into a veterinary program; so I moved to Ithaca, New York, and took some graduate courses at Cornell to strengthen my application for veterinary school. These courses included cell tissue culturing and cellular immunology. I took those classes because I was interested in the topics, but looking back, I think I was being prepared for my present day undertaking with the Babytooth Technologies team.
I went on to veterinary school and graduated from Cornell, and I have been practicing since 1984. Several years ago I accepted a teaching position at a local Christian school teaching biology to high school students. It was at that school I was exposed to stem cells through current events in the news. Interestingly it is also at this time I became acquainted with the Answers in Genesis (AiG) website. It is through AiG that I learned how to keep my feet planted firmly on the Bible when it comes to science.
I started educating people in my church about the misinformation of stem cells and praying for God to show me how to continue to use my education and gifts for His glory. I then met the acquaintance of Jason Bourgeois (current CEO of Babytooth Technologies) who had befriended John Beaulieu (current Chief Bio-Ethics Officer of Babytooth Technologies), an elder in my church.
How did Babytooth Technologies get started?
The story behind the company is really quite interesting. The creation of Babytooth Technologies basically began on or about the same day the National Institutes of Health (NIH) publicly released the discovery of SHED (Stem cells from Human Exfoliated Deciduous teeth). Jason had read an editorial about SHED in a local newspaper and his first thought was: “This is something really positive. This may really help people. I wonder if people can store these cells.”
Interestingly when Jason moved his family to Vermont, he met John, and soon thereafter their search for a Christian church brought them to our fellowship. What’s most interesting is that during the same period of events I was also understanding that the God-centered way to utilize stem cells was through adult stem cells and not embryonic stem cells and was beginning to learn about SHED. We began an investigational group that, to date, includes several leading medical professionals across the country.
We never would have thought an opportunity quite like this would come along, but knowing that the Lord has prepared all things in advance for us to do, we were able to rest in His guidance and trust in our abilities. We are thankful for the professionals and friends who continue to help pass on our message—most of whom, and not coincidently, have turned out to be Christians.
What are the goals of Babytooth Technologies?
One goal is to raise awareness about these easily accessible, non-controversial stem cells (SHED). We will continue to publicize the current scientific data available, including Phase II neural transplant success (in rats) for Parkinson’s research (discussed later), and also the fact that SHED induces new bone growth and offers the potential for artery, heart muscle, and cartilage regeneration, similar to other adult mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) sources.
We will continue to encourage families who have children with baby teeth (6–8 years old), or teens with wisdom teeth, to preserve their SHED cells, as a form of insurance for future therapeutic use if ever necessary. Some people have said that it is too early to begin storing these cells because of the absence of clinical data for their use in therapies. Having met with Dr. Songtao Shi, the investigator who discovered SHED, and learning about his continuing research, Babytooth Technologies has had an inside look as to the current research in this area. What we can say is SHED offers immense hope for vast therapeutic applications. Due to the maturity, elasticity, and robustness of SHED, we believe it is a valuable source of stem cells that people can now begin to learn about.
Of course our greatest goal is to explore, fund, and inspire research and development for therapeutic uses of SHED. As a company established by Christians, we are interested to see how our progress has been guided throughout. We have recently expanded our team to include an innovative, non-controversial group of scientists that have also been studying SHED, as well as other pro-life sciences. Their 10 years of study includes extensive work with islet cells, the cells which induce the creation of insulin in the pancreas. They also have a long history of working with stem cells from bone marrow and cord blood.
What is your position within the company?
Since our establishment, I have been the Chief Scientific Officer. I am fortunate to be working with many great minds. I can see how God is using each of our strengths and gifts to continually direct the technology and service forward.
Describe a typical day for you.
This question makes me smile. My wife, Melissa and I have six children ranging in ages from seven months to seventeen years old. She homeschools the younger ones; so as we’re all getting ready for the day, or at the end of the day, the times are always blessed with family fun. Even though my work as a veterinarian is rigorous, I still have time to throw in my training for Ironman triathlons (I’ve completed five to date). So there isn’t really ever a typical day.
My involvement with Babytooth Technologies has been just as demanding, but it’s a recent, new direction for me, which I greatly enjoy. I oversee the lab process and medical side of operations along with Dr. Ruth Medina, our Compliance Officer; so my days are interesting, to say the least.
What type of adult stem cells does Babytooth Technologies work with?
Babytooth Technologies works with adult stem cells found in the dental pulp of baby teeth, wisdom teeth, and adult periodontal ligament. They are referred to as SHED. Dr. Shi coined the phrase SHED to set them apart from other adult stem cells because of their unique ability to increase their numbers quickly in culture, their robustness, their ability to secrete neurotropic (nerve-growing) factors and the fact that in transplantation they remain and do not die off like other stem cells.
What are some other sources of adult stem cells?
Other sources include bone marrow, nerve, muscle, liver, thymus, pancreas, mammary, salivary gland, heart, cartilage, adipose (fat), and umbilical cord. I believe stem cells will probably be found in most tissues. The problem really lies in isolating them. That is why SHED are so attractive; they are easily obtained and expanded in culture. Current technology also allows for purification of SHED. These pure “universal” cells are almost complete with their Class III FDA pre-market approval process; so therapies are not far off.
In what treatments have adult stem cells been utilized?
(The following list can be found by going to the Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics website)
- Brain Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma
- Testicular Cancer
- Tumors abdominal organs Lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
- Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
- Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
- Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia
- Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia
- Cancer of the lymph nodes: Angioimmunoblastic Lymphadenopathy
- Multiple Myeloma
- Breast Cancer
- Renal Cell Carcinoma
- Various Solid Tumors
- Soft Tissue Sarcoma
- Ewing’s Sarcoma
- Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia
- Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis
- POEMS syndrome
- Systemic Lupus
- Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Autoimmune Cytopenia
- Crohn’s Disease
- Behcet’s Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Juvenile Arthritis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Systemic Vasculitis
- Alopecia Universalis
- Buerger’s Disease
- Acute Heart Damage
- Chronic Coronary Artery Disease
- Corneal regeneration
- Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome
- X-linked Lymphoproliferative Syndrome
- X-linked Hyper immunoglobulin M Syndrome
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Stroke Damage
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Sideroblastic Anemia
- Aplastic Anemia
- Red Cell Aplasia
- Amegakaryocytic Thrombocytopenia
- Primary Amyloidosis
- Diamond Blackfan Anemia
- Fanconi’s Anemia
- Chronic Epstein-Barr Infection
- Limb Gangrene
- Surface Wound Healing
- Jawbone Replacement
- Skull Bone Repair
- Hurler’s Syndrome
- Osteogenesis Imperfecta
- Krabbe Leukodystrophy
- Cerebral X-Linked Adrenoleukodystrophy
- Chronic Liver Failure
- Liver Cirrhosis
- End-Stage Bladder Disease
Neural Degenerative Diseases and Injuries
Anemias and Other Blood Conditions
Wounds and Injuries
Other Metabolic Disorders
From a strictly medical/scientific standpoint, what are some of the advantages of working with adult stem cells vs. embryonic stem cells?
Adult stem cells have some distinct advantages over embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, obtained from living, human embryonic tissues, are associated with a much higher risk of cancer formation than those obtained from adult tissues. Adult stem cells provide a very low risk for cancer formation, if any in most applications.
Accessibility is another advantage. Adult stem cells, especially SHED, are more accessible by design. The media always seems to start with the embryo, when it comes to talking about embryonic stem cell research. We must remember that the embryo is a fertilized egg and these eggs have to be collected. The collection process for human eggs is costly, and there are risks involved for the donor female.
The whole process of embryonic stem cell research is suspect to compatibility. The likelihood of these young undifferentiated cells being compatible with the person who is going to be treated is rare. There are too many question marks. So what good is this research if the person who receives the cells has to use all sorts of anti-rejection drugs to try and stabilize a transplant of embryonic cells? What makes adult stem cells so attractive is they either come from you or can be used for you, if they are purified from a donor.
It is also my understanding that researchers have found that embryonic stem cells are difficult to control. Their ability to differentiate into any tissue, which is being touted as one of their strong points, may be their downfall. Simply put, it will be too hard to control their direction of growth. To the extent that researchers may find the growth of bone occurring in a brain where neurons are supposed to be growing is not an ideal situation whatsoever. Adult stem cells are slightly differentiated, and a little differentiation is a good thing because it is easier to direct these cells. I think we’re going to find that embryonic stem cells are too problematic, and this may put an end to this field of research. Again, that’s why SHED is so attractive.
Is there any evidence yet to indicate that SHED will be comparable in their healing capacities to other adult stem cells?
The following is a quote from Dr. Shi’s paper:
Our study provides evidence that SHED represent a population of postnatal stem cells capable of extensive proliferation and multipotential differentiation. Deciduous teeth therefore may be an ideal resource of stem cells to repair damaged tooth structures, induce bone regeneration, and possibly to treat neural tissue injury or degenerative diseases.1
There is also ongoing research using rat models for Parkinson’s that use SHED to treat the nerve disruption. They are finding that SHED not only heals the damaged cells but it also directs re-growth and replace dead cells, which we find very exciting.
How do SHED cells compare to cord blood, bone marrow, and placental cells?
First, we must identify the differences between the potential of each source of stem cell. Scientifically cord blood, bone marrow, and placental cells are destined for blood-related therapies. Not that they definitively cannot become tissues and cells other than blood, but those areas still require incredible research before that can actually happen.
With SHED cells the focus is different. With SHED we have the potential to focus on neural pathways as well as the growth of bone and cartilage to name only a few. So the sciences surrounding these different sources, as well as their natural abilities, must be recognized to clearly see the difference. We’re talking about different sources for altogether different applications.
With cord blood and placental cell banking available, why do you think it’s so important to be able to offer SHED cell banking to parents?
People who have stored their child’s cord blood or mother’s placental cells should consider banking SHED cells because of the difference in cellular abilities. We greatly support the banks that store blood cells, and we support their clinical applications. We see SHED cells as a cooperative cell, to some degree, and recognize the value they may offer. Parents should seriously consider banking SHED cells because they offer different applications than blood-type stem cells.
It also offers a second chance to those who, for whatever reason, missed their chance to save their child’s cord blood. Adopted children will also greatly benefit. Don’t forget that cord blood may have not been available to the older generations. It has been shown that SHED can be found in wisdom teeth of adults up to about the age of 40–45.
What is the major controversy surrounding stem cell research? Why do you think this controversy exists?
The major controversy with stem cell research boils down to the definition of life! As a Christian, I believe that life starts at conception. That means when the 23 chromosomes from the egg and the 23 chromosomes from the sperm unite, life as God designed it begins. It doesn’t matter how those chromosomes come together—either by manipulation or the act of procreation—life starts as designed by God.
Many names are applied to remove the human factor from the personhood of the embryo being destroyed, such as “fetus,” “embryo,” “pre-embryo,” “zygote,” “blastula,” “morula,” and my all-time favorite, “human cellular products” or “human biological matter.” All of these categories desensitize the public to the life that is actually there and being destroyed.
I tell people whenever they see an embryo to give it a name, like Tom or Sue, and then follow what is happening to them during the research. Approaching it this way, people will not be confused with all the terms and can see it for what it is—allowance for murder. Embryonic stem cell research always takes a life when the cells are removed from the embryo (Tom or Sue), destroying the life God had intended at the point of conception.
The controversy exists because of the clash of worldviews. And the reason for so many different worldviews in the world today can be traced back to the Fall of Adam, when sin and death entered the world. Unregenerate man has been on a slippery slope since, and life has been trivialized. A good example of the slippery slope is abortion, simply another method of desensitization of the public.
Why do you think many in the media are eager to popularize ESCR (embryonic stem cell research) even though adult stem cell research has been more successful?
It probably has a lot more to do with the controversy and politics that surround it than it does the science involved. In general, people have been misinformed. The media is quick to popularize ESCR because it is, by its very nature, controversial. It sells papers! Just follow the money trail; it will lead back to millions upon millions of dollars being allocated to institutions for ESCR. All this money is going toward unproven technology, when proven and more successful technologies are advancing every day.
Fortunately our senators voted as recently as July 17, 2006, to continue the ban on ESCR with the Fetal Farming Prohibition Act, S. 3504, which prohibits the solicitation or acceptance of tissue from fetuses gestated for research purposes.2 On July 19, President Bush signed the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006—a law that prohibits growing human embryos in animals or humans for research.3 Specifically, it prohibits the solicitation or acceptance of human fetal tissue from a human pregnancy that was deliberately initiated to provide such tissue, as well as tissue or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus that was gestated in the uterus of a nonhuman.3 The most eerie fact about fetal farming is the process. Some scientists believe that it is plausible as well as ethical to grow a human fetus to an age of 8 weeks to 8 months, just shy of full term, and then “harvest” or kill the fetus for its parts and tissues and use them for research. Need I say more?
What are some of the issues you face as a Christian in the stem cell research field?
The issues we are faced with deal with the clash of worldviews and the sanctity of life. It is very disturbing to see the lack of regard for life in the secular world. The secular world is looking at the world through different glasses, which makes it hard for them to see a Christian point of view. We are constantly dealing with people who believe that the end justifies the means, when actually no end has been found. As Christians, we have taken the stance to inform people about the potential of SHED, hopefully in time to influence some major people who can extend our efforts to a broad Christian base.
How do you hope Babytooth Technologies will influence Christian scientists and the Christian community at large?
I hope that Babytooth Technologies will show Christian scientists and the Christian community at large that tough situations can be approached with the Bible as our foundation at all times, and that our faith need not be compromised by the influence of the secular world. We look at the world as designed by God in an orderly fashion. By approaching the stem cell issue in this way, we believe we are beginning to see a godly answer for the stem cell and how to use it ethically.
Just look at SHED. How is an adult stem cell with so much potential found in baby teeth in the first place? By design of course! It’s unbelievable how the Lord has waited until this time, in the midst of such spiritual battles and controversy, to provide science with a new vision strongly apart from and adverse to ESCR. God commanded us to subdue the world. He designed it; it is orderly; and its potential is waiting to be discovered. Approach science that way and one will be rewarded. I hope that Babytooth Technologies will be a showcase for those biblical principles, to trust in the Lord and stand strong in faith even amid adversity.
What is your hope for the future of stem cell research?
Cures, therapies, regeneration, rejuvenation—the end of disease! It is not our desire to make people live forever, and that’s not in the Lord’s plan for us either, but to improve quality of life through non-controversial and ethical means is the hope we desire. I hope that the scientific community rallies around SHED and other adult stem cells to strengthen their position and avoid the slippery, very controversial slope of ESCR.