It’s been 18 years in the making, but now it seems that an orthodontist’s study of a bone-forming molecule will finally make it to space. The experiment is finally scheduled to launch in 2016 to be completed on the International Space Station.

If it works, this study may help us find a new technique to help regenerate bone loss in the jaw to improve dental implant procedures as well as reducing the impact of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis in Space

Space_Shuttle_Columbia_launching (1)As we talked about before, osteoporosis is a major problem in space, and it can affect the survival of teeth and, likely dental implants. Microgravity results in bone loss in many places in the body, including the mouth.

This makes space a great place to study osteoporosis treatments, such as NELL-1. NELL-1 is a molecule that helps cells differentiate into bone cells. Using this protein has already been shown to help with osteoporosis in some rat studies, but space is an ideal place to study the condition because it occurs in subjects who are otherwise healthy and do not have other risk factors associated with osteoporosis on earth, but as age, gender, and nutrition factors. Researchers hope that they can learn  how NELL-1 works and how it might be utilized in the treatment of osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw.

Intrepid Ratstronauts

The study will be conducted using 40 rodents who will be sent to the space station to live for two months, some of whom will be treated with NELL-1, others will not. The rodents will then be analyzed to determine the protective effect afforded by NELL-1 and whether the treatment merits more study or should be abandoned.

Applications on Earth

There are many potential applications of this treatment on earth if it turns out to work well. We already mentioned dental implants and osteoporosis, but what about healing bone loss related to gum disease or helping people recover from broken bones.

The study was originally funded by the American Association of Orthodontists Foundations (AAOF), and it’s possible that they foresaw orthodontic applications. One possible application would be to help stabilize teeth after orthodontic treatment, possibly reducing or eliminating the need for retainers.

At Smile Columbia Dentistry, we are committed to offering space-age dental procedures as they become available. To learn about the advanced treatments we offer, please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC dentist.