TT-450 -- Stem Cells and Teeth Banks, ebiz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, December 16, 2007 Issue No. 450


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
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In the news last week was an article about a research group
at Nagoya University announcing that they were creating a
tooth bank so as to harvest stem cells for the future
treatment of donor's teeth, bone repairs, and possibly for
other diseases. While it's great that the idea of banking
stem cell sources is gaining public attention, we find it
ironic that the media were so excited about the
announcement when in fact tooth banking has been around for
a year already, both in the USA and in Hiroshima. And
further, the two facilities we speak of are much more
advanced in their operations than the group in Nagoya with
their media sex appeal. Maybe it was just a slow news week.

Scientists have known for about 5 years now that children's
baby teeth contain an abundance of mesenchymal stem cells
which can be used to regrow bone, cartilage, and teeth --
an attractive proposition if you lose your teeth through
accident or peridontal disease. It is also believed that
these same stem cells can be used to treat heart disease,
Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and spinal cord injury paralysis,
although such treatments are still being worked on.

Stem cells work best on the patient from which they are
harvested, and to a certain extent their immediate family
and blood relatives. As such, it is inevitable that the key
to successful stem cell therapy lies in being able to
harvest the cells at the right point of development and to
effectively store them until accident or disease requires
their usage. Needless to say, this means potentially
storing for decades, and the cost and technical difficulty
of doing this properly make stem cell therapy using one's
own cells a still uncertain bet.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Nevertheless, at least one company in the USA has gone into
the tooth banking business and seems to be making a go of
it, and that company is BioEden ( of
Austin, Texas. BioEden created a baby teeth collection and
storage service mid-2006 where families ship baby teeth
just as they fall out (actually, within 24 hours), ship
them to the company where it conducts viability tests to
make sure the cells are replicable, then the teeth are
cryrogenically frozen at -150 degrees Celsius. None of this
is cheap and the company is charging a US$595 processing
fee plus US$89 a year for storage. This means that for an
average person, there is a likely lifetime cost of

Here in Japan, the University of Hiroshima started a
small venture company called Three Brackets ("Suri
Buraketto", we're assuming the English name here),
located at, in April 2005. This company
has received very little media coverage and yet appears
to have been the first in the world to offer a viable tooth
bank. The company today is still tiny, but has managed to
create a network of more than 90 dental clinics in 23
prefectures around the country that can collect teeth and
send them in for freezing. The cost structure for the Three
Brackets service is considerably lower than that for
BioEden, comprising a blood analysis, transportation, and
freezing for JPY123,000 (US$1,120) for 20 years. There is
an additional cost of JPY40,000 (US$365) if you want to
extend the storage to 40 years.

It's interesting to see the differences between the US and
Japanese tooth banks. The US one focuses on harvesting the
central upper and lower baby teeth at home and quickly
transporting them to the central lab and freezing facility.
For this reason they need to test the viability of the cell
tissue before committing it to freezing, because you never
know whether customers have followed the instructions. The
Japanese on the other hand harvest under controlled
conditions at dental clinics, and thus have trained
personnel handling the teeth. Our take is that this
approach is more reliable, and if you're going to spend a
thousand dollars on future insurance, you probably want to
have a professional involved.

Another difference is that the US company doesn't bother
collecting wisdom teeth, which it seems to feel are less
viable than baby teeth. That is all well and good, but if
you over the age of 7-8 years old before 2006 (most of us),
then you have no chance of using the new stem cell
technology using BioEden. Three Brackets on the other hand
have taken a much more pragmatic approach and have worked
out a system that lets even adults take advantage of stem
cell therapy, by banking wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth can be
particularly useful for implants -- a common procedure in
Japan where dental health is not a high priority for most

Another major difference is that the Hiroshima system uses
magnetic freezing rather than cryrogenic freezing.
"'Magnetic freezing?' you say, what's that?" Some of our
readers may recall a breakthrough technology we covered in
both Terrie's Take and the Japan Inc. magazine back in
July 2004
( This
technology, called CAS, was pioneered and commercialized by
the ABI company and exploits the little known phenomena
that applying even a weak magnetic field to water or cell
tissue will lower the freezing point of that body by up to
6-7 degrees Celsius.

The idea of CAS is to completely chill an object below
freezing point without freezing occuring, thus ensuring
even, distributed low temperature without the cell wall
damage caused by ice expansion and nutrient drainage due to
capillary action, as normally caused by conventional
freezing methods. Then, once the object is uniformly
chilled, you turn off the magnetic field and the object
snap freezes. ABI claims 95%+ preservation of essential
oils and fats in frozen fish, for example. While the
original technology focused on food preservation, ABI has
been working on a "backroom" project with several famous
universities to apply the technology to the long-term
storage of body parts. The Hiroshima University company is
the first expression of this new technology. Look for organ
banks to show up next.

Anyway, using CAS, Hiroshima University reckons that it can
increase the cell survival rate in teeth to a high of 83%.
This compares to 63% for liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees C),
45% for ultra-cold freezing (-80 degrees C), and just 21.5%
for a household freezer (-20 degrees C). So clearly they
are on to a good thing by using the ABI CAS technology. The
idea of tooth banking is already starting to catch on and
already Hiroshima University has started a joint project
with the Taipei Medical University, announced last month,
to bring the service to Taiwan and then to China. Maybe the
team at BioEden should take a look -- maintaining a CAS
system is a lot cheaper than cryrogenics and more reliable
as well.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Important missile launch exercise in Hawaii
- Tankan survey results bad
- New stem cell treatment for post-surgery
- New rules on personal information usage
- Luxury goods sales down

-> Important missile launch exercise in Hawaii

Japan is about to embark on an important defense exercise
this coming week, when it attempts to shoot down a
ballistic test missile launched by the USA. The exercise is
seen as the first step towards providing Japan with the
means to effectively parry the threat of incoming missiles
from North Korea. Indeed, the missile being fired will be
one that resembles one of the nearly 200 mid-range Rodong
missiles that North Korea has in its arsenal. ***Ed: The US
Navy has already successfully shot down similar ICBMs, so
this is more of a training exercise than proof it can be
done. But a psychologically important exercise
nonetheless. Japan's hawks will be pleased.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Dec 16, 2007)

-> Tankan survey results bad

The Bank of Japan's Tankan business confidence survey has
revealed that industry has turned extremely bearish about
the domestic and global economy. The survey returned the
lowest level of business confidence in 2 years, down to 19
points from 23 three months ago. A higher yen, oil, the
subprime problem, and government backtracking on reform are
all seen as contributing to a worsening economic outlook
for 2008. (Source: TT commentary from, Dec 15, 2007)

-> New stem cell treatment for post-surgery

A small study done at Kyushu University and presented at
the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium revealed that
Japanese doctors have successfully used stem cells to aid
the transplantation of fat liposuctioned from patients
legs or stomachs to regrow missing tissue in the breasts of
women who have had lumpectomies. Surgery for breast cancer
can leave disfiguring puckering or irregular shaped tissue
that cannot easily be compensated for with implants. And
there is controversy about whether implants are safe. The
Japanese procedure is a breakthrough because the stem cells
appear to promote the natural regrowth of internal tissue
without the transplanted fat being reabsorbed by the body
(defeating the objective of the operation) or dying in
situ. Doctors say the method is still experimental.
(Source: TT commentary from, Dec 16, 2007)

-> New rules on personal information usage

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has
announced new personal information protection rules which
will take effect in February 2008. The new rules will
prevent businesses handling large databases replete with
customer data from being shared with subcontractors and
other business partners, unless those contractors can
prove they follow proper data handling methods. The new
rules will in particular prevent the sharing of such
information as credit card numbers, resident registry
records, data on borrowings, medical records, salary
information, etc. (Source: TT commentary from,
Dec 12, 2007)

-> Luxury goods sales down

In a sign that consumers are getting ready for a rough 2008
despite the record winter bonuses paid out at leading
listed Japanese firms, the sales numbers for luxury items
such as jewelry, winter wear and financial products are
down for these first 2 weeks of December. A Nikkei survey
of high-end retailers found jewelry sales down several
percent on last year for high-end gems, winter wear down
7% or more, and investment trusts sales down 5.2%. ***Ed:
Noticeably, people are still buying consumer electronics
items such as large screen TVs. Perhaps this is a
subconscious sign that they are getting ready to batten
down the hatches on discretionary spending and limit their
free time to TV?** (Source: TT commentary from, Dec 12, 2007)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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