In future, children will not be putting their early teeth aside for the tooth fairy to collect, but putting them instead into a stem cell bank.
Rather than being rewarded with a coin, stem cells within the tooth will be stored to cure them of some of the deadliest afflictions they might suffer half a century later.
"Parents will want to store the stem cells found in the pulp inside these juvenile teeth in liquid nitrogen" says Dr Stan Gronthos, a haematologist at the Hanson Institute in Adelaide, South Australia. "That way they could be used to grow new teeth and perhaps even cure neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease."
He predicts they will become effective for growing replacement brain tissue to overcome stroke damage as well as basal cell degradation linked with Parkinson's.
The research Dr Gronthos highlighted took centre stage at the Australian Stem Cell Scientific Conference in October.
Many delegates to the Sydney conference expressed optimism that cells extracted from the pulp of children's milk teeth would be more versatile than embryonic material, as well as more ethically acceptable.
In 2000 Dr Gronthos was working at the National Institutes of Health in the US with Dr Songtao Shi when they unexpectedly found colonies of stem cells inside adult teeth.
This caused Dr Shi to examine a milk tooth discarded by his six-year-old daughter.
He found it contained potentially more versatile stem cells than the adult teeth.
The conference heard that this readily available and non-controversial source could be cultured into cells that mimicked nerves, or became dentine, bone or fat.
The technology to develop this source of cells into heart muscle tissue, or a range of beneficial blood components, is thought to be less than 10 years away.
Dr Gronthos is leading a team at the Hanson Institute that is injecting human baby tooth stem cells into rat brains to stimulate other brain cells to take over the functions of impaired tissue.
In a parallel experiment, a team at the Adelaide University School of Dentistry is attempting to use the cells to grow replacement teeth in sheep.
A US authority on adult stem cells, Professor Irving Weissman, told delegates of progress in using material taken from bone marrow and brains to cure diabetes and repair damaged spinal cords in mice.
Weissman said his team at Stanford University in California were on the threshold of conducting the world's first human trials.
He said the ability to take human cells, create cloned embryos and extract stem cells - through a process known as therapeutic cloning - would revolutionise medicine.
This would allow stem cell lines to be created from people with genetic diseases that were not well understood, such as Alzheimer's, heart disease and strokes.
Weissman's team plans to carry out the first human trial, transplanting pure brain stem cells to try to treat children suffering from a fatal brain disorder known as Batten Disease, before conducting trials for spinal cord injuries or cerebral palsy.
They also found that transplanting mature stem cells plus insulin-producing blood cells into mice cured diabetes. The first human trials for this approach would be for serious autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.
Australia banned therapeutic cloning in 2002, but is to review the laws early next year. In a move that provoked alarm at the conference, Costa Rica proposed a United Nations treaty to ban all human cloning.
The proposal was rejected despite the US and Australia lobbying on its behalf.
Since the emergence of the evangelically-supported Family First party in Australian politics, Australia's conservative coalition Government has adopted a hard line against ideas that unsettle the religious right.
- INDEPENDENTBy Ben Sandilands