Nightmares about losing your teeth or hair? At Sahlgrenska Academy a small research team is making real progress on genetically produced spare parts.
The Institute of Odontology research team consists of just six people. Despite their small size, they are conducting world-class research, and this in a heavily competitive field.
As is often the case, it’s a matter of being smarter and more flexible than the resourceful research giants that dominate the field.
“I believe that we’re successful precisely because we’re small, because we work closely together and talk with one another the whole time. It seems like there are no energy losses along the way. And then we work together on every project. It’s both more fun and produces better results,” explains Associate Professor Amel Gritli-Linde who is the team’s leader and central force.
The secret of a stem cell
Her hunger for knowledge is what drives her. As one of ten children, Amel Gritli-Linde learned to roll up her sleeves early on. Today she focuses her energy and curiosity on the mechanisms in the cells that regulate how various organs are formed.
“At the very beginning, developing teeth, salivary glands or hair follicles look much alike under the microscope. They also contain largely the same molecules. Yet one becomes a tooth, the other a gland and the third a hair follicle. It’s an almost magical process that we have to learn more about,” says Amel Gritli-Linde.
A sensitive signal system
The team has already succeeded in showing that if a gene is manipulated so that it stops producing a certain protein there are drastic consequences. A deformity can arise or the cells can change identity and become a completely different organ.
“It’s a signal system that is extremely sensitive to influence. But it’s possible to take advantage of this sensitivity. If we learn to understand and create models for how teeth or glands are formed, we may also be able to produce them later on,” says Amel Gritli-Linde.
Not a dreamer, but a visionary
When tomorrow’s researchers begin to replace implants with genetically produced teeth, help cancer patients suffering from dry mouths, or find the ultimate medicine against hair loss – it will hopefully take place with contributions from Amel Gritli-Linde and her little research team.
Of course, more research is needed before we arrive at genetic spare parts. Amel Gritli-Linde likes to see herself as a visionary. But she is no dreamer.
“Only when you have truly studied and are fully awake can you make the important discoveries. Like author Paul Valery said: ‘The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up’,” says Amel Gritli-Linde.