Bad breath chemical can help create liver cells: Study

A chemical that causes bad breath can be used to convert dental stem cells into human liver cells, a finding which scientists say could help repair the key organ if damaged.

Researchers at the Nippon Dental University in Japan found that Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) -- the gas famed for generating the stench in stink bombs, flatulence and bad breath -- can be harnessed to create liver cells which could prove a valuable treatment for patients.

According to the scientists, small amounts of hydrogen sulphide are made by the body. It is also produced by bacteria and is toxic in large quantities.

A group in China has already reported using the gas to enhance the survival of mesenchymal stem cells taken from the bone marrow of rats.

Now, the Japanese team that was investigating stem cells from dental pulp -- the bit in the middle of the tooth -- found that the gas increased the purity of the stem cells.

It also increased the proportion of stem cells which were converted to liver cells when used alongside other chemicals, the researchers said.

The idea is that liver cells produced from stem cells can be used to repair the organ if it was damaged, they said.

"High purity means there are less 'wrong cells' that are being differentiated to other tissues, or remaining as stem cells," lead researcherDr Ken Yaegaki was quoted as saying by the BBC News.

One of the concerns with dental pulp as a source of stem cells is the number that can be harvested.

However, the study, appeared in the Journal of Breath Research, did not say how many cells were actually produced.

Prof Chris Mason, a specialist in regenerative medicine at University College London, said: "It would be interesting to see how hydrogen sulphide works with other cells types." 

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