Engineering a Cardiovascular Tissue Graft from Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Engineering a Cardiovascular Tissue Graft from Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Comprehensive Grant
Grant Number: 
RC1-00151
Award Value: 
$2,454,490
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Status: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects more than 71 million Americans and 1.7 million Californians. Recently, engineered cardiovascular tissue grafts, or “patches”, including one made from mouse embryonic stem cells (ESC), have shown promising results as a future therapy for CVD. Our overall goal is to extend these recent results to human ESC as follows. Aim 1: Apply mechanical stretch and electrical pacemaker-like stimulation to hESC-derived heart cells in order to make them stronger and beat at the same time. Current methods to turn hESC into heart cells do not result in the organization required to generate enough strength to support a weak heart and to avoid irregular heart beats. We will use specially engineered devices to apply mechanical stretch and electrical pacemaker-like stimulation to hESC-derived heart cells in order to strengthen them and make them beat in unison. Aim 2: Engineer a cardiovascular patch from hESC-derived heart cells in order to make a potential new therapy for heart disease. Recently, heart cells from mouse ESC, supporting structures called scaffolds, and mechanical stretch have successfully been combined to engineer a cardiovascular patch. We will combine the hESC-derived heart cells from Aim 1, scaffolds, and the same stretch and pacemaker-like stimulation as in Aim 1 to engineer a cardiovascular patch. In addition, we will add a specialized substance called VEGF to our patch so that, potentially, a blood supply will form around it after it is implanted on a diseased heart. We believe a blood supply will be necessary to keep our patch healthy, and in turn, this will allow our patch to help a damaged heart pump better. Aim 3: Assess whether our patch can remain healthy and also strengthen the heart of a rat after it has undergone a heart attack. We will first implant our cardiovascular patch in the rat aorta, the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the body, to test whether the patch remains healthy and whether it can contract and beat on its own. We will first use the aortic position because we feel it will allow us to assess the inherent function of the patch, thus facilitating our efforts to improve its design. After testing in the aortic position, we will implant the patch over damaged heart tissue in a rat that has undergone an experimentally created heart attack. Over a period of several weeks, we will use novel imaging techniques, ultrasonography, echocardiography, and electrocardiography to non-invasively test whether the patch remains healthy and whether the patch helps the damaged heart pump better. We believe the above aims will address questions relevant to hESC-based cardiovascular therapies and will provide vital information needed for safe and effective future clinical translation. As we will evaluate both federally and non-federally approved cell lines, and thus unlikely to receive federal funding, we will need to rely on the support provided by CIRM to carry out our objectives.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects more than 1.7 million Californians and 71 million Americans. The societal and financial impacts are tremendous, with CVD accounting annually for an estimated $8 billion in CA and nearly $400 billion in US health care costs. In the case of chronic illness such as CVD, the state and national health care systems may not be able to meet the needs of patients or control spiraling costs, unless the focus of therapy switches away from maintenance and toward cures. Fortunately, the passage of Proposition 71 in 2004, and the subsequent creation of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), has created the funding needed to advance human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research that could lead to curative therapies that would benefit both millions of Californians and Americans. Recently, engineered cardiovascular tissue grafts, made from rat neonatal cardiomyocytes (CM) and cardiomyocytes derived from mouse ESC, have shown promising results as a future therapy for CVD. The overall goal of our proposed research is to extend these recent studies to hESC and engineer a hESC-CM based cardiovascular tissue graft as a regenerative therapy for CVD. We believe the objectives of our research will benefit the people and the state of California by addressing questions relevant to hESC-based cardiovascular regenerative therapies and will provide vital information needed for safe and efficacious future clinical translation. Development of cures for diseases such as CVD could potentially improve the California health care system by reducing the long-term health care cost burden on California. In addition, the results of our research may provide an opportunity for California to benefit from royalties, patents, and licensing fees and benefit the California economy by creating projects, jobs, and therapies that will generate millions of dollars in new tax revenues in our state. Finally, stem cell research such as ours could further advance the biotech industry in California, serving as an engine for California’s economic future. We have assembled a multidisciplinary team of experienced investigators to attack the objectives of our proposed research. At the same time, we will train and mentor a new generation of bright students and junior scientists in the areas of hESC biology, regenerative medicine, and technology development. This ensures that an essential knowledge base will be preserved and passed on to both investigators and patients within and beyond California.
Progress Report: 

Year 1

Specific Aim 1: To electromechanically condition hESC-derived cardiomyocytes. Progress: Over the past year, we have designed and constructed a computer controlled integrated stretch system and electrical pacing system for applying mechanical and electrical stimulation. This system was used in conjunction with a stretchable microelectrode array (sMEA) and shown to successfully support, stretch, and pace primary murine cardiomyocytes (CM). We also have developed a strain array device for cell culture that effectively interfaces the desirable properties of high-throughput microscale fluidic devices with macroscale user-friendly features. One challenge we have encountered with our sMEAs is maintaining electrical continuity of electrodes as cells are stretched. As an alternative to traditional electrical stimulation we have created a system that optically induces electrical activity in hESC-CM. We are now able to optically and non-invasively pace cardiomyocytes differentiated from our modified hESC line. Specific Aim 2: To engineer a hESC-CM based cardiovascular tissue graft. Progress: From our first attempt at engineering a cardiovascular tissue graft as we reported in Year 1, we learned that our grafts would require large populatoins of relatively pure hESC-CMs. As a result, we concentrated our efforts over the past year in developing a more efficient differentiation method for producing larger yields and quantities of hESC-CM. Our method produces hESC-CM in a directed manner under feeder-free and serum-free conditions by controlling multiple cardiomyogenic developmental pathways. Also, in a collaborative effort, we are engineering a novel method for sorting cardiomyocytes. In order to promote improved viability of hESC-CM in our tissue grafts, co-transplantation with hESC-derived endothelial cells (hESC-EC), as opposed to VEGF alone, will likely be needed as shown recently by others. Over the past year, we have shown that we can produce hESC-EC and that their survival in the heart is enhanced by activation of acetylcholine receptors that lead to activation of pro-survival and anti-apoptosis pathways. Finally, in order to control spatial orientation of hESC-CM within our tissue grafts, we have demonstrated on-demand micropatterning of matrix proteins for cell localization and stem cell fate determination. We have illustrated the utility of a cantilever-based nano-contact printing technology for cellular patterning, mESC renewal, and mESC fate specification. We are currently extending our results to undifferentiated hESC and hESC-CM. Specific Aim 3: To assess tissue graft viability and function in a small animal model. Progress: Over the past year, we created hESC-CM based tissue grafts in linear form. In order to quantify the loss of cardiac function between healthy and diseased hearts, we have recently developed a novel in vitro hybrid experimental/computational system to measure active force generation in ventricular slices of rodent hearts. Quantification of the loss of cardiac function will guide us in determining the numbers of hESC-CM needed for producing grafts with varying force generating capacity. Finally, as outlined in our original proposal, we will first implant our tissue grafts in rat aortas as a novel test-bed to assess the graft’s inherent function while minimizing the confounding effects of underlying cardiac contractions. Over the past year we have successfully implanted decellularized aortic patches in rat aortas and are currently working on adding hESC-CM and hESC-EC to the patches to assess their viability and function. In summary, in the second year of our project we have made strong progress on all three of our specific aims. Based on our current results, we anticipate we will continue to make significant progress in engineering a robust and functional cardiovascular tissue graft.

Year 2

Specific Aim 1: To electromechanically condition hESC-derived cardiomyocyte(CM). Progress: Over the past year, we tested, validated, and published an integrated strain and electrical pacing system that we designed and constructed. As mentioned in our previous reports, one challenge we encountered with our electromechanical devices is maintaining electrical continuity of electrodes as cells are stretched. As an alternative to traditional electrical stimulation, with collaborators at Stanford, we have created a system that optically induces electrical activity in hESC-CM by introducing light activated channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), a cationic channel, into undifferentiated hESC. In our initial manuscript we have also demonstrated the effects of light stimulation on a whole heart computational model in which we have virtually injected light-responsive hESC-CM in various areas of the simulated heart. Specific Aim 2: To engineer a hESC-CM based cardiovascular tissue graft. Progress: From our first attempt at engineering a cardiovascular tissue graft as we reported in Years 1, 2, and 3 we learned that our grafts would require large populations of relatively pure hESC-CMs. As a result, we’ve continued our efforts in developing a more efficient differentiation method for producing larger yields and quantities of hESC-CM. Our method produces hESC-CM and iPSC-CM in a directed manner under feeder-free, serum-free, and monolayer conditions by controlling TGF-beta/Activin, BMP, Wnt, and FGF pathways. We have used our differentiation protocols to contribute cardiomyocytes to our collaborators, which has resulted in one published manuscript and two submitted publications. Also, with our collaborator at UC Berkeley, we have engineered a novel method for identifying CMs based on their electrical signals and have reported our technology in one accepted manuscript and one under review. Specific Aim 3: To assess tissue graft viability and function in a small animal model. Progress: Over the past two years, we created hESC-CM based tissue grafts in linear and circular forms and our now creating grafts that can be optically controlled (see Aim 1 above). As described in our last progress report, in order to quantify the loss of cardiac function between healthy and diseased hearts, we have reported a novel in vitro hybrid experimental/computational system to measure active force generation in healthy ventricular slices of rodent hearts. Quantification of the loss of cardiac function will guide us in determining the numbers of hESC-CM needed for producing grafts with varying force generating capacity. We have also modeled eccentric and concentric cardiac growth through sarcomerogenesis in order to give us insight into how we might terminally mature our hESC-CM grafts. Finally, we have differentiated hESC into CM for one of our collaborators at Stanford and have performed detailed calcium imaging to show engraftment of hESC-CM with human heart tissue. This has given us great insight into how 3D tissue grafts might integrate with human heart tissue. In summary, in the fourth year of our project we made good progress on all three of our specific aims. Based on our current results, we anticipate we will continue to make significant progress in engineering a robust and functional cardiovascular tissue graft as we originally proposed and we will continue our efforts. Undoubtedly, with the support of the CIRM grant over the past four years, we have made great strides towards creating a 3D tissue graft and believe we will demonstrate functional integration, not only with rodent hearts, but with human tissue, all within the coming year.

© 2013 California Institute for Regenerative Medicine