Kids across Britain are being asked to donate their milk teeth to a major art project.
‘Palaces’ is a sculpture made from crystal resin and decorated with teeth.
The project is a part of an art-science collaboration that aims to inspire the nation with the regenerative potential of adult stem cells.
Artist Gina Czarnecki and stem cell biologist Professor Sara Rankin, from Imperial College London, hope thousands of children will contribute to their art project – one aim of which is to raise awareness of different sources of stem cells in the body, as well as questioning contemporary belief systems that dismiss age-old myth and folklore.
Along with a form to send in with a tooth, the project website – www.palaces.org.uk – provides a token which children can leave under their pillow to inform the Tooth Fairy of their donation to her palace.
The finished artwork will go on display at the Bluecoat, Liverpool in December 2011, and at the Science Museum in London in 2012.
In recent years, scientists have discovered that discarded body parts such as bones from joint replacements, umbilical cords, milk teeth and fat from liposuction are unexpectedly rich sources of stem cells – master cells of the body that can proliferate indefinitely to replace lost or damaged tissue.
Medical researchers are beginning to uncover the huge therapeutic potential of these adult stem cells for treatment of illness and injuries, including broken bones, heart disease and cancer.
Artist Gina Czarnecki says: ‘Different cultures have different traditions about where these teeth go, and what they are used for. Through exhibition and informed discussion, we’re looking to explore the questions this raises about the value of waste matter and our attitudes to our own bodies as sources and beneficiaries of recyclable material.’
Teeth are an ideal test case for using stem cells for the replacement of an organ. Adult/tissue stem cells can be extracted from the pulp of milk teeth, which are lost naturally during life and have a particular significance as a symbol of not only transition but also new growth.
Professor Sara Rankin says: ‘The artwork will provide a focus to engage young people with this research and increase awareness, understanding and informed debate about these new biomedical possibilities and their social, cultural and ethical implication.
‘At the moment, the debate around stem cell research is predominantly focused around ethical issues associated with the use of embryonic stem cells. We want to promote awareness about adult stem cells, such as those found in bone marrow or umbilical cord, which could be used to develop new treatments without any ethical issues.’