Recent advances in developmental biology, computational and genome science, and tissue engineering have made it possible to contemplate the regeneration of mammalian organs. The integration of knowledge from these disparate fields now enables the study of how individual components combine on a global scale to generate particular biological structures and functions. The application of such a systems-based approach to the problem of tooth engineering will make it possible to pursue rational rather than empiric strategies to fabricate a properly differentiated, enamel bearing tooth in vitro. Owing to current knowledge of the genetic pathways involved in odontogenesis and its clinical accessibility, the tooth represents an ideal target organ for the SysCODE Consortium. Like many mammalian organs, the tooth forms via a common developmental mechanism that involves the sequential, ordered exchange of signals between interacting epithelial and mesenchymal cell populations. We hypothesize that this complex, dynamic regulatory network can be resolved at the genetic and ultimately molecular level by the integration of different scientific disciplines and that this information can be used in the form of a molecular blueprint to design and build a tooth. To accomplish this goal, we propose three Specific Aims.
In Aim 1, we will generate a dynamic time series of spatially resolved gene expression lists for the interacting epithelial and the mesenchymal cell populations that regulate early tooth morphogenesis. These analyses will be expanded to include select mouse mutants, limited proteomic data for abundant ECM proteins (w/ Project 5), and micromechanical design principles (w/ Project 6).
In Aim 2, in conjunction with the SysCODE Computational Team, we will synthesize this information into a gene regulatory network (GRN), and with other data, into a molecular blueprint for early tooth development. This will involve the identification and ordering of canonical signaling pathways between dental epithelium and mesenchyme and analysis of transcriptional regulatory networks using new genomic and computational tools. Lastly, in Aim 3, we will employ tissue engineering platforms developed in Projects 7 and 9 in conjunction with the molecular blueprint and engineering design principles to direct tooth development in vitro. In sum, this Project has the potential to provide a paradigm for how interdisciplinary research can address a high impact problem whose solution can transform medicine.
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