Sometimes, when biology goes squirrely, it really goes squirrely. Case in point, a bizarre medical case in which a 4-month-old infant in Maryland was found to have several fully formed teeth embedded within a brain tumor. Warning: Graphic image to follow.
The boy was admitted to hospital because his head was growing faster than normal. Subsequent MRI scans showed a “heterogeneous, enhancing suprasellar mass” — but it contained multiple structures along the right side that looked startlingly like teeth that form in the lower jaw.
During the procedure to remove the tumor, the surgeons encountered multiple fully formed teeth. Fully formed! And not just bits of enamel or calcium deposits.
Subsequent analysis of the tumor revealed a craniopharyngioma, a rare brain tumor that can grow to be larger than a golf ball, but does not spread.LiveScience‘s Rachael Rettner explains more:
Researchers had always suspected that these tumors form from the same cells involved in making teeth, but until now, doctors had never seen actual teeth in these tumors, said Dr. Narlin Beaty, a neurosurgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center, who performed the boy’s surgery along with his colleague, Dr. Edward Ahn, of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
“It’s not every day you see teeth in any type of tumor in the brain. In a craniopharyngioma, it’s unheard of,” Beaty said.
Craniopharyngiomas commonly contain calcium deposits, “but when we pulled out a full tooth…I think that’s something slightly different,” Beaty told Live Science.
Teeth have been found in people’s brains before, but only in tumors known as teratomas, which are unique among tumors because they contain all three of the tissue types found in an early-stage human embryo, Beaty said. In contrast, craniopharyngiomas have only one layer of tissue.
The boy’s case provides more evidence that craniopharyngiomas do indeed develop from the cells that make teeth, Beaty said.
Incredibly, the boy is doing well, but the tumor destroyed his capacity to release certain hormones, so he’ll have to undergo hormone treatments for the rest of his life.