Cancer

Coding Dimension ID: 
280
Coding Dimension path name: 
Cancer

A Phase I dose escalation and expansion clinical trial in patients with advanced solid tumors

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Development III
Grant Number: 
DR3-07067
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$6 924 317
Disease Focus: 
Cancer
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Many believe that progress in drug development has not been as rapid as one would have predicted based on the significant technological advancements that have led to improved molecular understanding of this disease. There are numerous explanations for the lag in clinical success with new therapeutics. However, work in the past decade has provided support for what has become known as the cancer stem cell hypothesis. This model suggests that there is a class of cells that are the main drivers of tumor growth that are resistant to standard treatments. In one model the cancer stem cells inhabit an anatomical “niche” that prevents drug efficacy. Another view is one in which tumors can achieve resistance by cell fate decisions in which some tumor cells are killed by therapeutics, while other cells avoid this fate by choosing to become cancer stem cells. These stem cells are thought to be capable of both cancer stem cell renewal and repopulation of the tumor. Our proposal aims to conduct a Phase I clinical trial of a first-in-class mitotic inhibitor. The target is a serine/threonine kinase that was originally selected because blocking this target affects both tumor cell lines and tumor initiating cells (TICs). Our data suggest that the target kinase functions at the intersection of mitotic regulation, DNA damage and repair, and cell fate decisions associated with stem cell renewal. Preclinical work has begun to segregate “sensitive” and “resistant” groups of tumor cell lines and TICs after treatment with the drug candidate as a single agent and in combination with standard-of-care therapeutics. Our data also support the model in which cancer stem cell resistance is likely to arise, at least in some cases, due to stem cell fate decisions that happen in response to therapeutic intervention. This grant is a natural progression of work partially funded by CIRM that enabled the isolation of Tumor Initiating Cells (TICs)from tumors in different tissue types. This facilitated the development and assessment of drug candidates that target both bulk tumor cells and TICs and has now led to the development of a potential anti-cancer drug which we are now preparing to test in humans. The goal of the Phase I trial is to determine the maximum tolerated dose, the recommended Phase II dose, and any dose-limiting toxicities. We will also characterize safety, pharmacokinetic, and pharmacodynamic profiles along with any antitumor activity. Once the maximum tolerated dose has been identified, a biomarker expansion cohort will be opened in order to determine whether appropriately selected biomarkers are associated with a predictable patient response. This will allow a rational approach to study single agent and combination studies that perturb this network and allow us the opportunity to facilitate a targeted clinical development plan.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
It has been estimated, by the California Department of Public Health, that in 2013 about 145,000 Californians will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 55,000 of these will ultimately succumb to their disease. Furthermore, more than 1.3 million Californians are living today with a history of cancer. Therefore, innovative research programs that are able to impact this devastating disease burden are likely to have a large potential benefit to the state of California and its residents. This grant application proposes a Phase I clinical trial for a first-in-class inhibitor of a target that has never been tested in patients. The aim of this trial is to determine the maximum tolerated dose in humans, the recommended dose for phase II trials, and evaluate any dose-limiting toxicities. The trial will also characterize safety, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamic properties. It will also provide early insight into any antitumor activity. Our group has developed a comprehensive unbiased platform that facilitates the segregation of sensitive and resistant populations of cancer based on their molecular subtypes. This capability has the promise to improve the success rate and reduce the cost of oncology clinical trials by focusing on the subsets that are most likely to benefit while avoiding unnecessarily treating patients that would otherwise benefit from alternative treatments. Our preliminary pre-clinical work, funded by CIRM in the context of a Disease Team I award, suggests that this approach can be successfully applied to the networks associated with mitotic regulation, DNA repair, and stem-cell fate decisions. Our ongoing research has tested a number of chemical compounds that are able to block pathways that are critical to the growth and proliferation of many cancer models. These compounds have all been tested in multiple in vitro and in vivo systems and have been found to inhibit the ability of the cancer stem cell to repopulate. Now that our pre-clinical enabling studies have been completed, we have submitted an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA for a first-in-human phase I clinical trial. In the current proposal, we will be able to test our hypotheses in a clinical setting, which if successful will lead to confirmation of safety and the establishment of the appropriate dose with which to test in later stage trials. This trial will set the stage for a new class of agents that has not yet been tested in clinical settings. We believe that the proposal described herein has the promise to expand the reach of targeted therapies into mechanisms that in most cases have been resistant to innovation. Finally, it is reasonable to expect that our preclinical work and the proposed clinical trials will validate a number of potential biomarkers that will identify susceptible patient subpopulations.

Forming the Hematopoietic Niche from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-05217
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 375 983
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop. To approach this question we will use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation. Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells. The findings from these studies will have broad applicability to the production of other types of tissues from pluripotent stem cells, all of which have stem cells that require interaction with a specialized niche. In addition to the biological questions explored in this proposal, our focus on the blood system has direct clinical relevance to the field of bone marrow and cord blood transplantation. The development of a human hematopoietic niche from pluripotent stem cells could potentially be used to expand hematopoietic stem cells from adult tissues like cord blood. Most importantly, the ability to control differentiation from pluripotent stem cells into the blood lineage could provide an unlimited source of matched cells for transplantation for patients with leukemia and other diseases of the bone marrow and the immune system who currently lack suitable donors.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The unique combination of pluripotentiality and unlimited capacity for proliferation has raised the hope that pluripotent stem cells will one day provide an inexhaustible source of tissue for transplantation and regeneration. Diseases that might be treated from such tissues affect millions of Californians and their families. However, much is still to be learned about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and better controlled than is currently the case. The research proposed in this application has broad potential benefits for Californians both through the biological questions it will answer and the relevance of these studies for clinical translation. Our goal is to understand the way the microenvironment influences tissue production from pluripotent stem cells, a critical issue for the field of stem cell biology. Specifically we will explore the question- Do the cell types produced during differentiation of pluripotent stem cells produce an adequate microenvironment for the differentiation of tissue or are some cells inhibitory to tissue production? Our approach to these questions will be to use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to study these questions rigorously. However, the fundamental concepts formed from these studies will have great relevance for the clinical production of other types of tissues from pluripotent stem cells, such as islets, neural cells and cardiac muscle. In addition to the broad biological questions explored in this proposal, our focus on the blood system has direct clinical relevance to the field of bone marrow and cord blood transplantation. One goal in the proposal is to generate a cellular platform from pluripotent stem cells that will create an environment in which adult blood stem cells can grow and be expanded. Cell numbers collected from cord blood at birth are often insufficient for transplantation in adult patients and older children. The development of a human cell culture system that could expand the number of cord blood stem cells would provide new opportunities for transplantation for patients with leukemia and other diseases of the bone marrow and the immune system who currently lack suitable donors. All scientific findings and technical tools developed in this proposal will be made available to researchers throughout California, under the guidelines from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
Progress Report: 
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the first year of support, we have made significant progress in the first two specific aims. We have developed a method that allows us to track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment. We also have identified subsets of cells generated from pluripotent cells that have distinct functions in blood formation. Our plan during the next year is to fully characterize these subsets to understand how they function, and to improve our methods to expand them in culture.
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the second year of support, we have made significant progress in all three specific aims. We continue to refine our method that allows us to track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment during development. We have identified subsets of cells generated from pluripotent cells that can support cord blood HSC and now we are determining the mechanisms by which these cells act and how they can be best used to support HSC that develop from PSC.
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the third year of support, we have made significant progress in all three specific aims. We have now completed our studies that track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment. We have performed functional studies to identify which of the cell types that we generate from pluripotent cells support HSC when grown in culture, and which do not. Finally we have performed gene expression analyses on these different cell types to understand the molecular pathways that they use to support HSC in culture.

Stem Cell-mediated Therapy for High-grade Glioma: Toward Phase I-II Clinical Trials

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01421
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$18 015 429
Disease Focus: 
Brain Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Despite aggressive multimodal therapy and advances in imaging, surgical and radiation techniques, malignant brain tumors (high-grade gliomas) remain incurable, with survival often measured in months. Treatment failure is largely attributable to the diffuse and invasive nature of these brain tumor cells, ineffective delivery of chemotherapeutic agents to tumor sites, and toxic side-effects to the body, which limits the dose of drug that can be given. Therefore, new tumor-selective therapies are critically needed. Neural stem cells (NSCs) offer an unprecedented advantage over conventional treatment approaches because of their unique ability to target tumor cells throughout the brain. This ability allows NSCs to be used to deliver prodrug-activating enzymes to tumors, where these enzymes will generate high concentrations of powerful anti-cancer agents selectively at tumor sites. We will use an established human NSC line to develop a novel NSC-based product to deliver the enzyme carboxylesterase (CE), which will activate a systemically administered prodrug, CPT-11, to a powerful chemotherapeutic agent, SN-38, selectively at tumor sites, destroying invasive glioma cells while sparing normal tissues. Based on our preliminary data, we hypothesize that CE-expressing NSCs will home to tumor sites in the brain, and, in combination with CPT-11, will generate high concentrations of SN-38 specifically at tumor sites. Thus, in addition to potentially improving lifespan by concentrating the powerful chemotherapeutic agent selectively at tumor sites, this NSC-mediated treatment strategy should significantly decrease toxic side-effects to normal tissues, thus preserving or improving the patient’s quality of life. Our research, regulatory and clinical teams have the collective expertise and experience to conduct the preclinical studies necessary to optimize the efficacy of this innovative treatment approach. Specifically, we will determine the optimal dose and route of NSC administration; the optimal prodrug dosing regimen; and assess the safety of this treatment approach. We will perform these studies and analyses, generate clinical grade products, and file and obtain all appropriate regulatory documents and approvals. Completion of these activities will lead to the filing of a new Investigational New Drug (IND) proposal to the FDA, for a first-in-human Phase I clinical trial of this pioneering NSC-mediated treatment in patients with recurrent high-grade gliomas. Importantly, our NSC line can be further modified for tumor-localized delivery of a variety of therapeutic agents, and can be given serially or in combination to maximize therapeutic benefit. Thus, the potential medical impact of this innovative NSC-mediated therapeutic approach may be very far-reaching, as it can be developed for application to other types of malignant brain tumors, as well as for metastatic cancers.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Despite aggressive multimodality therapy and advances in imaging, surgical and radiation techniques, high-grade gliomas remain incurable, with survival often measured in months. Approximately, 22,500 malignant brain tumors are diagnosed annually in the U.S., of which more than 2,600 cases are in California. New therapies are desperately needed to improve both the survival and quality of life of these brain tumor patients and to reduce the economic impact of billions of dollars in related healthcare costs. We propose to develop a novel neural stem cell (NSC)-based treatment method that will selectively target glioma cells with a potent chemotherapy agent, locally activated by the NSCs at tumor sites to destroy neighboring tumor cells. Our tumor-selective approach also has the advantage of minimizing toxicity to normal tissues, thereby decreasing systemic side effects and damage to normal brain. This new therapeutic strategy, therefore, not only has the potential to improve survival, but, by preserving cognitive function and quality of life, it could also enable adult Californians diagnosed with brain tumors to continue making societal contributions that would benefit all Californians. Important for clinical translation of this novel therapeutic approach, we have established the NSC line to be used in this study as a fully characterized cGMP Master Cell Bank. The NSC line is thus expandable, easily distributed to other medical centers, and cost-effective, which will allow this therapeutic approach to be quickly adopted. Importantly, this NSC line can be further modified for tumor-localized delivery of a variety of therapeutic agents, which may be given serially or in combination to maximize therapeutic benefit. There is tremendous potential for developing NSC-mediated treatment applications for other types of malignant brain tumors, as well as for metastatic solid tumors throughout the body. Therefore, the impact of these proposed studies to advance NSC-mediated treatment of glioma may be very far-reaching and may significantly contribute to reducing healthcare costs. Finally, the combined strengths and experience of our research team will enable us to advance this NSC-meditated therapeutic approach in a timely, streamlined, and cost-effective manner to submit a new IND application for initiating first-in-human clinical trials in California, providing benefit to state taxpayers by efficient use of tax dollars and initial access to this novel therapy. In addition, our CIRM Disease Team NSC-mediated cancer treatment studies would stimulate and advance collaborative partnerships and alliances with other cancer centers and affiliates, pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions, and philanthropic societies within California, which would further enhance local and state economies.
Progress Report: 
  • Primary brain tumors are among the most difficult cancers to treat. High-grade gliomas, the most common primary brain tumors in adults, remain incurable with current therapies. These devastating tumors present significant treatment challenges for several reasons: 1) surgical removal runs the risk of causing permanent neurologic damage and does not eliminate cancer cells that have migrated throughout the brain; 2) most anti-cancer drugs are prevented from entering the brain because of the presence of the blood-brain barrier, which often does not allow enough chemotherapy into the brain to kill the cancer cells; and 3) typically, the amount of chemotherapy that can be given to cancer patients is limited by intolerable or harmful side effects from these agents. If concentrated cancer therapies could be specifically localized to sites of tumor, damage to healthy tissues would be avoided.
  • The long-range goal of this research project is to develop a neural stem cell (NSC)-based treatment strategy that produces a potent, localized anti-tumor effect while minimizing toxic side effects. NSCs hold the promise of improved treatment for brain cancers because they have the natural ability to distribute themselves within a tumor, as well as seek out other sites of tumor in the brain. Because they can home to the tumor cells, NSCs may offer a new way to bring more chemotherapy selectively to brain tumor sites. After modifying the NSCs by transferring a therapeutic gene into them, NSCs can serve as vehicles to deliver anti-cancer treatment directly to the primary tumor, as well as potentially to malignant cells that have spread away from the original tumor site. With funding from CIRM, we are studying the ability of NSCs, that carry an activating protein called carboxylesterase (CE) to convert the chemotherapy agent CPT-11 (irinotecan) to its more potent form, SN-38, at sites of tumor in the brain.
  • During the first year of funding we have determined that 1) when administered directly into the brain or into a peripheral vein (intravenous injection) of mice with brain tumors, NSCs will travel to several different subtypes of gliomas; 2) we can engineer the NSCs to consistently produce high levels of more powerful forms of CE: rCE and hCE1m6; 3) glioma cells die when they are exposed to very low (nanomolar) concentrations of SN-38, and 4) although glioma cells survive when exposed to a relatively high concentration of CPT-11 alone, they do die when the same concentration of CPT-11 is administered in combination with either rCE or hCE1m6. These results suggest that the engineered NSCs are expressing relatively high levels of CE enzymes and that the CE enzymes are converting CPT-11 into SN-38. We have also been able to label our NSCs with iron particles, so that we can track their movement in real-time by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and follow their location and distribution in relation to the tumor.
  • All of our data thus far support the original hypothesis that effective, tumor-specific therapy for glioma patients can be developed using NSCs that express rCE or hCE1 and the prodrug CPT-11. During the second year of CIRM funding, we will further analyze our data to make a final determination regarding the best form of CE to develop towards clinical trials, and the best dose range and route of delivery of NSCs to achieve maximal tumor coverage. We will then begin our therapeutic studies and start discussions with the Food and Drug Administration, to define the safety studies necessary to obtain approval for testing this new treatment strategy in patients with brain tumors.
  • High-grade gliomas, the most common primary brain tumors in adults, have a poor prognosis and remain incurable with current therapies. These devastating tumors present significant treatment challenges: 1) surgery may cause permanent neurologic damage; 2) surgery misses cancer cells that have invaded beyond the edge of the tumor or to other sites in the brain; 3) many, if not most, chemotherapy drugs cannot enter the brain because of the blood-brain barrier; and 4) due to the highly toxic nature of chemotherapy agents the therapeutic window (the difference between the dose that kills the tumor and the dose that causes toxic side effects) is very small, resulting in undesirable side-effects. Therefore, if therapeutic agents could be localized and concentrated selectively to the tumor sites, treatment efficacy may be improved while toxic side effects are minimized.
  • The overarching goal of this project is to develop a human Neural Stem Cell (NSC)-based treatment strategy that produces potent localized anti-tumor effects while minimizing toxic side effects. NSCs hold the promise of improved treatment for brain cancers because they have an innate ability to distribute within and around a tumor mass and to seek out tumor cells that have invaded further into surrounding brain tissue. By homing to cancer cells, NSCs offer a way to selectively deliver concentrated chemotherapy to brain tumor sites. We are modifying NSCs to make the protein carboxylesterase (CE), which will convert a systemically administered prodrug, CPT-11 (irinotecan) to an active, potent anti-cancer drug, SN38 at the tumor sites.
  • Our second year of funding was highly productive and informative. We validated key elements of our system, successfully negotiating Go/No Go milestones, yielding substantial progress:
  • (1) We have selected the optimal genetically modified human CE to efficiently convert CPT-11 to SN-38. This CE is being developed for clinical grade use.
  • (2) We have determined the volume of tumor coverage by NSCs injected directly into the brain versus injecting them intravenously. We found that we achieve more tumor coverage with direct injection of the NSCs into the brain, and will focus on developing this approach for initial NSC.CE/CPT-11 clinical trials. However, following intravenous injections we found the NSCs localize prominently at the invasive tumor edges, which may prove therapeutically efficacious as well. Due to the significant clinical and commercial advantages that intravenous administration presents, this approach will also be developed toward patient trials. We have determined the starting NSC dose range for both approaches.
  • (3) We have shown that CPT-11 + CE is1,000 fold more toxic to glioma cells than CPT-11 alone. Importantly, microdialysis studies in our preclinical models have confirmed the conversion of CPT-11 to SN-38 by our CE-secreting NSCs in the brain.
  • (4) We have completed studies labeling our NSCs with iron (Feraheme) nanoparticles, which allows for non-invasive cell tracking by Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Safety studies for clinical use of this iron-labeling method were completed and submitted to the FDA, for consideration of use in brain tumor patients enrolled in our current NSC.CD/5-FC recurrent glioma clinical trial. This would be the first-in-human use of Feraheme-labeled stem cells for MRI tracking.
  • Our results to date robustly support the original hypothesis that an effective, glioma-specific therapy can be developed using NSCs that home to tumors and express CE to convert CPT-11 to the potent anti-cancer agent SN-38. Pre-clinical therapeutic efficacy studies to optimize CPT-11 regimens are now in progress.
  • High-grade gliomas, the most common primary brain tumors in adults, have a poor prognosis and remain incurable with current therapies. These devastating tumors present significant treatment challenges; 1) surgery may cause permanent neurologic damage; 2) surgery misses cancer cells that have invaded beyond the edge of the tumor or disseminated to other sites in the brain; 3) many, if not most, chemotherapy drugs cannot enter the brain because of the blood-brain barrier; and 4) due to the highly toxic nature of chemotherapy agents the therapeutic window (the difference between the dose that kills the tumor and the dose that causes toxic side effects) is very small. Therefore, if therapeutic agents could be concentrated and localized to the tumor sites, treatment efficacy may be improved while toxic side effects are minimized.
  • The overarching goal of this project is to develop a human Neural Stem Cell (NSC)-based treatment strategy that produces potent localized anti-tumor effects while minimizing toxic side effects. NSCs hold the promise of improved treatment for brain cancers because they have an innate ability to distribute within and around a tumor mass and to seek out other, secondary and smaller tumor nodules in the brain. By homing to cancer cells, NSCs offer a way to selectively deliver concentrated chemotherapy to brain tumor sites. After modifying NSCs by adding the gene to make the protein carboxylesterase (CE), NSCs deliver CE to convert the drug CPT-11 (irinotecan) to its more potent form, SN-38 at primary and secondary brain tumor sites.
  • The major milestone in our third year of funding was that we completed our pre-IND package and held our pre-IND meeting with the FDA. To this end, we validated the following:
  • (1) NSCs can potentiate the in vivo efficacy of irinotecan (CPT-11) using a low dose (7.5 mg/kg) daily x 5 schedule. Both real time Xenogen and integrated morphometric analysis of immunohistochemically stained sections of tumor were used to determine tumor volumes.
  • (2) In vivo pharmacokinetics demonstrated increased accumulation of SN-38 in tumor over that of tumor interstitium. The concentrations of tumor SN-38 were approximately 3-fold higher in tumor-bearing brain tissue than in corresponding normal tissue supporting the hypothesis that NSCs can direct toxic chemotherapy in a tumor localized manner.
  • (3) Following FDA approval of the incorporation of iron (Feraheme) into NSCs, three patients were treated with FeHe-labeled HB1.F3.CD, the first generation NSCs undergoing clinical trial. There were no adverse effects from the treatment demonstrating relative safety and lack of toxicity of this method.
  • Our results to date robustly support the original hypothesis that an effective, glioma-specific therapy can be developed using NSCs that home to tumors and express CE to convert CPT-11 to SN-38. During the fourth and coming year of CIRM funding, we will conduct experiments to determine the optimal schedule for NSC/CPT-11 therapy and demonstrate the safety and lack of toxicity of the treatment schema in rodents to fulfill requirements for IND submission and clinical trial in humans.
  • High-grade gliomas, the most common primary brain tumors in adults, have a poor prognosis and remain incurable with current therapies. These devastating tumors present significant treatment challenges; 1) surgery may cause permanent neurologic damage; 2) surgery misses cancer cells that have invaded beyond the tumor edge to other sites in the brain; 3) many, if not most, chemotherapy drugs cannot enter the brain because of the blood-brain barrier; and 4) chemotherapy drugs are toxic to normal tissues as well as tumor, causing undesirable side effects. Therefore, if therapeutic agents could be concentrated and localized to the tumor sites, treatment efficacy may improve while side effects are minimized.
  • Our goal is to bring to the clinic a human Neural Stem Cell (NSC)-based treatment strategy that produces potent localized anti-tumor effects while minimizing toxic side effects. NSCs have a natural ability to home to invasive brain tumor cells throughout the brain. NSCs, used as a delivery vehicle, offer a novel way to selectively target chemotherapy to brain tumor sites. NSCs are modified to express a certain enzyme (carboxylesterase; CE), that converts systemically administered prodrug (irinotecan) to a much more potent form (SN-38), that is up to 1000 times more effective at killing brain tumor cells.
  • Milestones reached in our fourth year include:
  • (1) receiving regulatory approval from the NIH/OBA following a public form in September, 2013.
  • (2) determining the dose and timing of NSC and irinotecan administration for optimal therapeutic efficacy in pre-clinical brain tumor models.
  • (3) demonstrating that the CE-expressing NSCs can increase concentrations of the toxic drug SN-38 by > 6-fold compared to giving irinotecan alone. Furthermore, SN-38 concentrations were dose proportional to administered irinotecan concentrations.
  • (4) Safety-toxicity studies required by the FDA for Investigational New Drug (IND) approval were completed. These studies demonstrated no significant toxicities and safety of our NSC treatment protocol in preclinical brain tumor models.
  • Our results to date support our hypothesis that a safe and effective NSC-mediated therapy can be developed for clinical use in patients with high-grade glioma, with potential application to other types of brain tumor and brain tumor metastases. We hope to initiate clinical trials with our CE-expressing NSCs and irinotecan by the end of 2014.

Combinatorial Chemistry Approaches to Develop LIgands against Leukemia Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
New Faculty I
Grant Number: 
RN1-00561
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 392 397
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Various cells and organs in the human body originate from a small group of primitive cells called stem cells. Human cancer cells were also recently found to arise from a group of special stem cells, called cancer stem cells (CSCs). At present, cancer that has spread throughout the body (metastasized) is difficult to treat, and survival rates are low. One major reason for therapeutic failure is that CSCs are relatively resistant to current cancer treatments. Although most mature cancer cells are killed by treatment, resistant CSCs will survive to regenerate additional cancer cells and cause a recurrence of cancer. As opposed to other human stem cells, CSCs have their own unique molecules on their cell surface. This project aims to develop agents that specifically target the unique cell surface molecules of CSCs. These agents will have the potential to eradicate cancer from the very root, i.e., from the stem cells (CSCs) that produce mature cancer cells. In this project, we will develop agents that specifically target leukemia stem cells to determine the feasibility of our approach. Leukemia is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in males and the fifth in females. If our approach is successful, we can use the same approach for other cancer types. To develop these specific agents, we will screen a library of billions of molecules to identify those that specifically target the unique cell surface molecules of leukemia stem cells (LSCs). After we identify these specific molecules, we will optimize their structure to increase their specific binding to LSCs. Specific binding to LSCs is crucial, as the optimized molecules will be able to uniquely kill LSCs and spare normal blood cells. Many leukemia patients need stem cell transplantation during treatment. There are two approaches to harvesting stem cells for transplantation: those harvested from patients themselves and those harvested from healthy donors. Stem cells harvested from healthy donors need to genetically match patients’ cells. Otherwise, these transplanted cells from the donor recognize the recipient’s (host or patient) cells as non-self cells and attack these cells. This response leads to a serious disease called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). It is often difficult to find matched donors. Stem cells harvested from patients are usually not used for the treatment of acute leukemia because they are contaminated with LSCs that will lead to recurrence of leukemia after transplantation. If this project is successful, the targeting agents developed in this project can be used to eliminate the contaminating LSCs and decrease the leukemia recurrence after transplantation.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Acute leukemia is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in males and females in California. The outcome for acute leukemia is poor and over 70% of patients will die from this disease. This project aims to develop therapeutic agents that specifically target leukemia stem cells and therefore eradicate leukemia from its root. These agents can also be used for stem cell transplantation. Many leukemia patients need stem cell transplantation during treatment. There are two approaches to harvesting stem cells for transplantation: those harvested from patients themselves and those harvested from healthy donors. Stem cells harvested from healthy donors need to genetically match patients’ cells. Otherwise, these transplanted cells from the donor recognize the recipient’s (host or patient) cells as non-self cells and attack these cells. This response leads to a serious disease called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). It is often difficult to find matched donors. This is especially true in California because of the genetically diversified population. Stem cells harvested from patients are usually not used because they are contaminated with leukemia stem cells that will lead to recurrence of leukemia after transplantation. If this project is successful, the targeting agents developed in this project can be used to eliminate the contaminated leukemia cells and decrease the likelihood of leukemia recurrence after transplantation. The ligands developed in this project can be used for targeted therapy for leukemia. Since no such ligands have been identified so far that specifically target leukemia stem cells, these ligands can be patented and eventually commercialized. This may have huge financial benefits to California. If this project is successful, the same approach can be used to treat other cancers and for the development of more commercialized drugs. If this grant is funded, it will secure my career as a physician-scientist in stem cell and cancer research. The physician-scientist is a diminishing breed in that it is difficult for physicians to do research while meeting the huge demands of the clinic. However, there is a huge gap between basic research and clinical applications. This gap is in part traced to the fact that it is difficult to find researchers who know and can integrate clinical needs with basic research. I consider myself a promising physician-scientist who has received extensive, rigorous and systematic training in medical science and basic research ([REDACTED]). If this grant is funded, I will not only carry out this important research, but this will also give me protected time for this research.
Progress Report: 
  • Human cancer cells were recently found to arise from a group of special stem cells, called cancer stem cells (CSCs). At present, cancer that has spread throughout the body (metastasized) is difficult to treat, and survival rates are low. One major reason for therapeutic failure is that CSCs are relatively resistant to current cancer treatments. Although most cancer cells are killed by treatment, resistant CSCs will survive to regenerate additional cancer cells and cause a recurrence of cancer. As opposed to other human stem cells, CSCs may have some unique molecules that can be targeted for cancer treatment. This project is to use such technologies as our patented one-bead one-compound technology (OBOC) to develop small molecules that can specifically target cancer stem cells. With OBOC, trillions copies of small molecules are synthesized in tiny beads around 90 microns. During development, millions of molecules can be screened against cancer stem cells with hours to days. So far, we have identified six molecules that target CSC. Currently, we are optimizing these molecules to increase their efficiency of these molecules on CSC. Once fully developed, these molecules will have the potential to eradicate cancer from the very root, i.e., from the stem cells (CSCs) that produce mature cancer cells.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia is a group of serious blood malignant diseases. The treatment outcome is poor, in large part, to the fact that a small group of cells named leukemia stem cells can survive treatment, regenerate more leukemic cells and cause recurrence. This project aims to improve the treatment outcomes of acute leukemia by eradicating leukemia stem cells. During the previous two years, we identified several small molecules that can specifically bind to leukemia stem cells. Over the last one year, we determined that one of these small molecules has the potential to work like a “smart missile” to guide the delivery of chemotherapeutic drugs to leukemia stem cells. More specifically, we linked this small molecule on the surface of nanoparticles that are small particles with the size of about 1/100th of one micron (much smaller than the width of a human hair). Inside of these nanoparticles, we can load chemotherapeutic drugs. We found that our small molecules can specifically attach the nanoparticles to leukemia stem cells, and deliver the drug load to the inside of the cells. Therefore, these “smart” nanoparticles can potentially target leukemia stem cells, and eradicate leukemia from the very root. Furthermore, chemotherapeutic drugs formulated in these nanoparticles are less toxic, suggesting that high-dose chemotherapeutic drugs can be given to patients to treat leukemia without increasing the horrendous toxicity associated with regular chemotherapy.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia is a group of serious blood malignant diseases. The treatment outcome is poor, in large part, due to the fact that a small group of cells named leukemia stem cells can survive treatment, regenerate more leukemic cells and cause recurrence. This project aims to improve the treatment outcomes of acute leukemia by eradicating leukemia stem cells. We identified one molecule that can specifically bind to leukemia stem cells. We also developed nanoparticles that are small particles with the size of about 1/100th of one micron (much smaller than the width of a human hair). Inside of these nanoparticles, we can load chemotherapeutic drugs, such as daunorubicin that is one of the two drugs used for the upfront treatment of acute leukemia. When we attached the stem cell-targeting molecules on the surface of nanoparticles, these nanoparticles work like “small missiles” that can seek and delivery daunorubicin into leukemia stem cells. We have shown that these “smart” nanoparticle can delivery chemotherapeutic drug daunorubicin to leukemia cells directly isolated from clinical patient specimens, and kills these cells more efficient that the regular nanoparticles. Therefore, these “smart” nanoparticles can potentially target leukemia stem cells, and eradicate leukemia from the very root. Furthermore, chemotherapeutic drugs formulated in these nanoparticles are less toxic, suggesting that high-dose chemotherapeutic drugs can be given to patients to treat leukemia without increasing the horrendous toxicity associated with regular chemotherapy.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common acute leukemia in adults and a very serious disease. Most AML cells arise from a group of special stem cells, named leukemia stem cells (LSCs). One major reason for treatment failure is that LSCs are relatively resistant to current treatments. Although most leukemia cells are killed by treatment, resistant LSCs will survive to regenerate additional leukemia cells and cause a recurrence of leukemia. Recently, we have developed a small molecule that can recognize and bind to AML LSCs. We have also developed tiny particles named nanomicelles. These nanomicelles have a size of about 1-2/100th of one micron (one millionth of a meter), and can be loaded with chemotherapy drug called daunorubicin that can kill LSCs. In this project, we will coat the drug-loaded nanomicelles with small molecules that specifically bind and kill LSCs. In patient’s body, these drug-loaded nanomicelles will work like “smart bombs”, and deliver a high concentration of daunorubicin to kill LSCs. Over the last one year, we found that these LSC-targeting nanomicelles could target and kill LSC more efficiently that free daunorubicin or nanomicelles that do not target LSC. We also found that, compared to free daunorubicin commonly used in the treatment of AML now, daunorubicin in nanomicelles could raise the blood daunorubicin concentration by more than 20 times. This is clinically significant as leukemia cells and LSC are located inside blood vessels and bone, and have direct contact with blood. Therefore, increase in blood daunorubicin concentration may represent more efficiency in killing leukemia and LSC.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common acute leukemia in adults and a very serious disease. Most AML cells arise from a group of special stem cells, named leukemia stem cells (LSCs). One major reason for treatment failure is that LSCs are relatively resistant to current treatments. Although most leukemia cells are killed by treatment, resistant LSCs will survive to regenerate additional leukemia cells and cause a recurrence of leukemia. Recently, we have developed a small molecule that can recognize and bind to AML LSCs. We have also developed tiny particles named nanomicelles. These nanomicelles have a size of about 1-2/100th of one micron (one millionth of a meter), and can be loaded with chemotherapy drug called daunorubicin that can kill LSCs. In this project, we will coat the drug-loaded nanomicelles with small molecules that specifically bind and kill LSCs. In patient’s body, these drug-loaded nanomicelles will work like “smart bombs”, and deliver a high concentration of daunorubicin to kill LSCs. Over the last one year, we found that daunorubicin-loaded nanomicelles could significantly increase the blood daunorubicin concentration by 20-35 times after intravenous administration. This is clinically significant as leukemia cells and leukemia stem cells are mainly located inside blood vessels. Therefore, increase in blood daunorubicin concentration by nanomicelles means leukemia and leukemia stem cells are exposed to 20-35 times more daunorubicin than regular chemotherapy. one of the major toxicity of daunorubicin is toxicity to the heart. As acute myeloid leukemia usually occurs in elderly patients, many of them already have heart diseases that prevent them from receiving the most effective chemotherapeutic drug daunorubicin. We found that, when compared to the standard daunorubicin, daunorubicin in nanomicelle has 3-5 folds less toxicity to the heart. In addition, the toxicity to other vital organs, such as liver and spleen, is significantly decreased. Compared to the standard daunorubicin, daunorubicin in nanomicelles dramatically increases the drug efficacy in killing cancer cells and prolonging the survival in animal models.

Human endothelial reprogramming for hematopoietic stem cell therapy.

Funding Type: 
New Faculty Physician Scientist
Grant Number: 
RN3-06479
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 084 000
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The current roadblocks to hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) therapies include the rarity of matched donors for bone marrow transplant, engraftment failures, common shortages of donated blood, and the inability to expand HSCs ex vivo in large numbers. These major obstacles would cease to exist if an extensive, bankable, inexhaustible, and patient-matched supply of blood were available. The recent validation of hemogenic endothelium (blood vessel cells lining the vessel wall give rise to blood stem cells) has introduced new possibilities in hematopoietic stem cell therapy. As the phenomenon of hemogenic endothelium only occurs during embryonic development, we aim to understand the requirements for the process and to re-engineer mature human endothelium (blood vessels) into once again producing blood stem cells (HSCs). The approach of re-engineering tissue specific de-differentiation will accelerate the pace of discovery and translation to human disease. Engineering endothelium into large-scale hematopoietic factories can provide substantial numbers of pure hematopoietic stem cells for clinical use. Higher numbers of cells, and the ability to grow cells from matched donors (or the patients themselves) will increase engraftment and decrease rejection of bone marrow transplantation. In addition, the ability to program mature lineage restricted cells into more primitive versions of the same cell lineage will capitalize on cell renewal properties while minimizing malignancy risk.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Bone marrow transplantation saves the lives of millions with leukemia and other diseases including genetic or immunologic blood disorders. California has over 15 centers serving the population for bone marrow transplantation. While bone marrow transplantation can be seen as a standard to which all stem cell therapies should aspire, there still remains the difficulty of finding matched donors, complications such as graft versus host disease, and the recurrence of malignancy. While cord blood has provided another donor source of stem cells and improved engraftment, it still requires pooling from multiple donors for sufficient cell numbers to be transplanted, which may increase transplant risk. By understanding how to reprogram blood vessels (such as those in the umbilical cord) for production of blood stem cells (as it once did during human development), it could eventually be possible to bank umbilical cord vessels to provide a patient matched reproducible supply of pure blood stem cells for the entire life of the patient. Higher numbers of cells, and the ability to grow cells from matched donors (or the patients themselves) will increase engraftment and decrease rejection of bone marrow transplantation. In addition, the proposed work will introduce a new approach to engineering human cells. The ability to turn back the clock to near mature cell specific stages without going all the way back to early embryonic stem cell stages will reduce the risk of malignancy.
Progress Report: 
  • We aim to understand how blood stem cells develop from blood vessels during development. We are also interested in learning whether the blood-making program can be turned back on in blood vessel cells for blood production outside the human body. During the past year we have been able to extract and culture blood vessel cells that once had blood making capacity. We have also started experiments that will help uncover the regulation of the blood making program. In addition, we have developed tools to help the process of understanding whether iPS technology can "turn back time" in mature blood vessels and turn on the blood making program.

Prostaglandin pathway regulation of self-renwal in hematopoietic and leukemia stem cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06036
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 244 455
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that result from corruption of the normal controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. They are serious causes of illness and death, and are particularly devastating in children and the elderly. Despite substantial advances in treatment of leukemia, a significant proportion of cases are unresponsive to current therapy. Since more aggressive chemotherapy regimens provide only marginal improvements in therapeutic efficacy, we have reached a point of diminishing returns using currently available drugs. Thus, there is an urgent need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. To this end, our studies focus on defining the defects that corrupt the normal growth controls on blood stem cells. The proposed studies build on our discovery of a key enzyme with an unexpected causative role in leukemia. We propose to further characterize its function using various proteomic approaches, and employ a cross-species comparative approach to identify additional pathways unique to cancer stem cell function. The proposed characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. They result from corruption of the normal controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Despite many attempts to improve treatments with new drug combinations, this approach has reached a point of diminishing returns since intensified chemotherapies contribute only marginal improvement in outcome and are associated with increasing toxicity. The proposed characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
Progress Report: 
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. Even patients who are successfully cured of their disease often suffer from long-term deleterious health effects of their curative treatment. Thus, there is a need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. Our studies focus on the defects and mechanisms that induce leukemia by disrupting the normal growth controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Using a comparative genomics approach we have identified genes that are differentially expressed in leukemia stem cells. These genes have been the focus of our studies to establish better biomarkers and treatment targets. One candidate gene codes for an enzyme with a previously unknown, non-canonical causal role in a specific genetic subtype of leukemia caused by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. To characterize its molecular contributions, we are identifying and characterizing protein partners that may assist and interact with the enzyme in its oncogenic role. Candidate interaction partners have been identified using proteomic techniques, and are being investigated for their possible mechanistic roles in leukemia stem cell functions. Another promising candidate that we identified in the comparative gene expression approach encodes a cell surface protein that is preferentially expressed on leukemia stem cells. We have exploited this cell surface protein as a marker to isolate the rare population of cells in human leukemias with stem cell properties. This technical approach has resulted in the isolation of leukemia stem cell populations that are more highly enriched than those obtained using previous techniques. The highly enriched sub-population of leukemia stem cells has been used for comparative gene expression profiling to define a dataset of genes that are differentially expressed between highly matched populations of leukemia cells that are enriched or depleted of leukemia stem cells. Bioinformatics analysis of the dataset has further suggested specific cellular processes and transcriptional regulatory factors that distinguish human leukemia stem cells caused by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. These newly identified factors will be studied using in vitro and in vivo assays for their specific contributions to leukemia stem cell function and leukemia pathogenesis. Continued characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. Even patients who are successfully cured of their disease often suffer from long-term adverse health effects of their curative treatment. Thus, there is a need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. Our studies focus on the defects and mechanisms that induce leukemia by disrupting the normal growth controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Using a comparative genomics approach we have identified genes that are differentially expressed in leukemia stem cells. These genes have been the focus of our studies to establish better biomarkers and treatment targets. One candidate gene codes for an enzyme with a previously unknown, non-canonical causal role in a specific genetic subtype of leukemia induced by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. To characterize its molecular contributions, we have identified protein partners that may assist and interact with the enzyme in its oncogenic role. Candidate partners are being investigated for their possible mechanistic roles in leukemia stem cell functions. Another promising candidate identified in our comparative gene expression approach encodes a cell surface protein that is preferentially expressed on leukemia stem cells. We have utilized this cell surface protein as a marker to isolate the rare population of cells in human leukemias with stem cell properties. This technical approach has resulted in the isolation of leukemia stem cell populations that are more highly enriched than those obtained using previous techniques. The highly enriched sub-population of leukemia stem cells has been used for comparative gene expression profiling to identify genes that are differentially expressed between highly matched populations of leukemia cells that are enriched or depleted of leukemia stem cells. Bioinformatics analysis of the dataset has identified major cell cycle differences that distinguish human leukemia stem cells induced by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. The distinctive cell cycle characteristics of the cells have been confirmed in functional assays for their specific contributions to leukemia stem cell function and leukemia pathogenesis. These studies are the first to mechanistically link a cell surface protein with regulation of self-renewal, a key attribute of leukemia stem cells. Continued characterization of the crucial growth controllers that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.

Epigenetics in cancer stem cell initiation and clinical outcome prediction

Funding Type: 
New Faculty I
Grant Number: 
RN1-00550
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 063 450
Disease Focus: 
Solid Tumor
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Cancer is responsible for approximately 25% of all deaths in the US and other developed countries. For women, breast and lung cancers and for men, cancers of prostate and lung are the most prevalent and the most common cause of deaths from cancer. While a large number of treatment modalities such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. have been developed, we still are far from finding a cure for most cancers. So, more research is needed to understand the basic processes that are subverted by cancer cells to gain a proliferative advantage. In addition, cancer patients show a great deal of heterogeneity in the course and outcome of the disease. Therefore it is important to be able to predict the clinical outcome of the patients so that appropriate therapies can be administered. Clinical outcome prediction is based generally on tumor burden and degree of spread with additional information provided by histological type and patient demographics. However, patients with similar tumor characteristics still show heterogeneity in the course and outcome of disease. Thus, accurate sub-classification of patients with similar clinical outcomes is required for development of more efficacious therapies. One important molecular process that is altered in cancer is the epigenetic regulation of gene expression. In humans, DNA is tightly wrapped around a core of proteins called histones to form chromatin—the physiologically relevant form of the genome. The histones can be modified by small chemical molecules which can affect the structure of chromatin, allowing for a level of control on gene expression. The patterns of occurrences of the histone modifications throughout chromatin are highly regulated and affect all molecular processes that are based on DNA. This information which is heritable but not encoded in the sequence of DNA is referred to as ‘epigenetics.’ A challenge in biology is to understand how histone modifications which can number to more than 150, contribute to normal gene regulation and how their alterations contribute to development of cancer stem cells. These cells are thought to be responsible for maintain the bulk of the tumor and need to be completely eradicated if we were to cure a given cancer. By studying primary cancer tissues and viruses that cause tumor, we have found that one histone modification plays a critical role in transforming a normal call to a tumor cell, potentially generating a cancer stem cell. We have found that he same histone modifications can be used as a biomarker to predict clinical outcome of patients. We now propose to study this process in more depth, discover other important histone modifications that contribute to cancer development and progression and use this knowledge to develop standard, simple and robust assays for predicting clinical outcome of cancer patients. Our work may also lead to identification important molecules that can be targeted for cancer therapy.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Cancer is a devastating disease that is becoming more prevalent as the population ages. While scientists have developed a general framework of how cancer initiates, there remains significant gaps in our knowledge about how cancer arises from a normal cell. One difficulty with studying cancer is the heterogeneity in the types of cells that exist within a given cancer tissue. Some of these cells have recently been shown to have stem cell-like properties and when isolated can reestablish the original tumor. These ‘cancer stem cells’ are thought to be responsible for maintaining the bulk of the tumor and need to be completely eradicated if we were to cure a given cancer. There is also a great deal of differences in the course and outcome of cancers with seemingly similar attributes, making application of appropriate therapies difficult. Our proposal aims to understand some of the basic processes that may contribute to development of cancer stem cells and to use this knowledge to develop proper clinical tests for prediction of cancer patients’ clinical outcome. This would be beneficial for people of California as it may lead to personalization of cancer therapy. Our work may also lead to identification of critical molecules that need to be therapeutically targeted to improve rates of cancer therapy. Identification of such molecules may lead to innovative discoveries and patents that may be exploited by the biotech industry in California, and thereby improve the economy of California as well.
Progress Report: 
  • Cancer is a genetic disease but epigenetic processes also contribute to cancer development and progression. Epigenetic processes include molecular pathways that modify the DNA itself or the proteins that are associated with DNA (i.e. histones), thereby affecting how the genetic information is used to maintain cellular states. Cancer cells exploit the normal epigenetic processes to their advantage to support uncontrolled growth and evade host defense mechanisms. Our proposal aims to understand the epigenetic requirements for cancer initiation and progression and how they can be used to develop prognostic assays that can predict cancer clinical outcome or response to therapeutics. We have made significant progress in all of our aims. We are discovering new basic principles governing epigenetic processes in human embryonic stem cells versus more differentiated cell types and understanding how these principles are implemented and regulated by the different types of cells. We have also shown that epigenetics can be used for cancer prognostic purposes as well as for prediction of response to specific cancer chemotherapeutics.
  • The goal of this proposal is to understand the dynamics of chromatin in various cellular differentiation states and how alteration of this dynamic may contribute to cancer development and progression. Our major findings are outlined as follows and further elaborated below.
  • 1) Among the various acetylation sites of histones, H3K18ac has a unique distribution in hESCs and is specifically affected during oncogenic transformation. As part of a screen to discover upstream regulators of this modification site (described in previous reports), we identified a non-coding RNA that is required for maintenance of H3K18ac, expression of SOX2 and its target genes, and growth of hESCs.
  • 2) We have discovered a highly novel and unanticipated role for histone acetylation. We have found that global histone acetylation and deacetylation coupled with flux of acetic acid in and out of the cells acts as a buffering system for regulation of intracellular pH. This phenomenon is a fundamental biological process and occurs in hESCs, cancer cells as well as normal differentiated human cells. (A paper reporting this finding is currently being reviewed at Nature.)
  • 3) We are continuing our efforts on the role of linker histone H1.5 in transcriptional regulation of terminally differentiated cells vs hESCs. This is a continuation project from a CIRM SEED grant. A manuscript on this project was submitted to Cell but was not accepted. We have performed additional experiments and preparing a new manuscript.
  • I. A non-coding RNA is required for hESC growth.
  • This aim was designed to understand how the global levels of histone modifications are regulated. As reported in previous progress reports, we carried out a kinase screen in which ~800 kinases were knocked down individually using siRNAs and the levels of two histone modifications were examined. We validated the top hits which were reported last year. The most significant effect on histone modifications, especially H3K18ac, was observed in knockdown of TPRXL (tetra-peptide repeat homeobox-like). We found that knockdown of TPRXL causes ~50-70% reductions in the global levels of H3K18ac specifically, suggesting that TPRXL is required for maintenance of a portion of H3K18ac throughout the genome. It turned out that the identification of TPRXL was a fortuitous finding. TPRXL is not a kinase but has been mis-annotated as a kinase in certain databases, hence its inclusion in the kinase siRNA library. TPRXL is a member of the TPRX homeobox gene family and is designated as a non-functional retrotransposed pseudogene (Booth and Holland, 2007). It is suggested that TPRXL was generated by reverse transcription of TPRX1 mRNA which was then integrated near an enhancer active in placenta. Consistently, TPRXL has a very high expression in placenta compared to other tissues. Subsequent to integration, TPRXL sequence has diverged from that of TPRX1 in an unusual way. In certain regions, such as over the homebox domain, TPRXL has retained 81% nucleotide identity but only 66% amino acid identity compared to TPRX1 (Booth and Holland, 2007). Despite its designation, TPRXL could possibly be a functional retrogene as it is transcribed and contains two potential open reading frames (ORFs). One ORF can code for a short protein (139 a.a.) that would contain the homeodomain and a polyglutamine stretch. Another ORF codes for a longer protein that would consist mostly of a long polyserine/proline stretch.
  • Epigenetic processes include molecular pathways that modify the DNA or the proteins that are associated with DNA (i.e. histones), thereby affecting how the genetic information is used to maintain cellular states. Thus epigenetics plays an important role in normal biology and disease. When deregulated, epigenetic processes could contribute to disease development and progression. Since embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and cancer cells share the capacity to divide indefinitely, our proposal aims to understand the epigenetic requirements for such capacity. We have found that a particular epigenetic process, which we previously linked to cancer progression, may contribute to regulation of DNA replication in human ESCs. We have also discovered how epigenetic processes could in novel ways exert control over metabolic state of the cell. Finally, we have discovered how chromatin – the complex of DNA and histones – at specific sets of gene families is differentially compacted in differentiated cell types vs. human ESCs. Altogether, we are providing novel insights into the functions of various epigenetic processes and how they may differ in stem cells vs. other normal and cancer cell types.
  • Epigenetic processes include molecular pathways that modify the DNA or the proteins that are associated with DNA (i.e. histones), thereby affecting how the genetic information is read. Epigenetics plays an important role in normal biology and disease because it can affect how genes are turned on and off. Deregulation of epigenetic processes indeed contributes to disease development and progression including cancer. Our proposal has aimed to understand how the epigenome exerts its control over gene regulation. We have found that in addition to gene regulation, on epigenetic process is unexpectedly linked to control of cellular physiology. We have shown that dynamic acetylation of histone proteins regulates intracellular level of acidity, providing an unprecedented function for the epigenome. Our data provides plausible explanations for why ESCs contain in general higher levels of histone acetylation than other cell types and why certain cancers with low levels of histone acetylation are more aggressive. In a separate study, we have found that replication of DNA in ESCs is associated with a unique epigenetic signature that is not found in differentiated cells or other rapidly dividing cell types such as cancer. We have proposed that this molecular property of replication in ESCs may be an important determinant of continual cell division without malignancy, fundamentally distinguishing ESC-specific from cancer-like cell division. Altogether, we are providing novel insights into the functions of various epigenetic processes and how they may be similar or differ in stem cells vs. other normal and cancer cell types.

Derivation and Characterization of Myeloproliferative Disorder Stem Cells from Human ES Cells

Funding Type: 
New Faculty II
Grant Number: 
RN2-00910
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 065 572
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Cancer is the leading cause of death for people younger than 85. High cancer mortality rates related to resistance to therapy and malignant progression underscore the need for more sensitive diagnostic techniques as well as therapies that selectively target cells responsible for cancer propagation. Compelling studies suggest that human cancer stem cells (CSC) arise from aberrantly self-renewing tissue specific stem or progenitor cells and are responsible for cancer propagation and resistance to therapy. Although the majority of cancer therapies eradicate rapidly dividing cells within the tumor, the rare CSC population may be quiescent and then reactivate resulting in disease progression and relapse. We recently demonstrated that CSC are generated in chronic myeloid leukemia by activation of beta-catenin, a gene that allows cells to reproduce themselves extensively. However, relatively little is known about the sequence of events responsible for leukemic transformation in more common myeloproliferative disorders (MPDs) that express an activating mutation in the JAK2 gene. Because human embryonic stem cells (hESC) have robust self-renewal capacity and can provide a potentially limitless source of tissue specific stem and progenitor cells, they represent an ideal model system for generating and characterizing human MPD stem cells. Thus, hESC cell research harbors tremendous potential for developing life-saving therapy for patients with cancer by providing a platform to rapidly and rationally test new therapies that specifically target CSC. To provide a robust model system for screening novel anti-CSC therapies, we propose to generate and characterize BCR-ABL+ and JAK2+ MPD stem cells from hESC. We will investigate the role of genes that are essential for initiation of these MPDs such as BCR-ABL and JAK2 V617F as well as additional mutations in beta-catenin or GSK3betaï€ implicated in CSC propagation. The efficacy of a selective BCR-ABL and JAK2 inhibitors at blocking BCR-ABL+ and JAK2+ human ES cell self-renewal, survival and proliferation alone and in combination with a potent and specific beta-catenin antagonist will be assessed in robust in vitro and in vivo assays with the ultimate aim of developing highly active anti-MPD stem cell therapy that may halt progression to acute leukemia and obviate therapeutic resistance.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Although much is known about the genetic and epigenetic events involved in CSC production in a Philadelphia chromosome positive MPD like chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), comparatively little is known about the molecular pathogenesis of the five-fold more common Philadelphia chromosome negative (Ph-) MPDs. MPD patients have a moderately increased risk of fatal thrombotic events as well as a striking 36-fold increased risk of death from transformation to acute leukemia. Recently, a point mutation, JAK2 V617F(JAK2+), resulting in constitutive activation of the JAK2 cytokine signaling pathway was discovered in a large proportion of MPD patients. A critical barrier to developing potentially curative therapies for both BCR-ABL+ and JAK2+ MPDs is a comprehensive understanding of relative contribution of BCR-ABL and JAK2 V617F to disease initiation versus transformation to acute leukemia. We recently discovered that JAK2 V617F is expressed at the hematopoietic stem cell level in PV, ET and MF and that JAK2 skewed ifferentiation in PV is normalized with a selective JAK2 inhibitor, TG101348. However, a detailed molecular pathogenetic characterization has been hampered by the paucity of stem and progenitor cells in MPD derived blood and marrow samples. Because hESC have robust self-renewal capacity and can provide a potentially limitless source of tissue specific stem and progenitor cells in vitro, they represent an ideal model system for generating human MPD stem cells. Thus, California hESC research harbors tremendus potential for understanding the MPD initiating events that skew differentiation versus events that promote self-renewal and thus, leukemic transformation. Moreover, a more comprehensive understanding of primitive stem cell fate decisions may yield key insights into methods to expand blood cell production that may have major implications for blood banking. Clinical Benefit Generation of MPD stem cells from hESC would provide an experimentally amenable and relevant platform to expedite the development ofsensitive diagnostic techniques to predict disease progression and to develop potentially curative anti-CSC therapies. Economic Benefit The translational research performed in the context of this grant will not only speed the delivery of innovative MPD targeted therapies for Californians, it will help to train Californiaís future R&D workforce in addition to developing leaders in translational medicine. This grant will provide the personnel working on the project with a clear view of the importance of thir research to cancer therapy and a better perspective on future career opportunities in California as well as directly generate revenue through development and implementation of innovative therapies aimed at eradicating MPD stem cells that may be more broadly applicable to CSC in other malignances.
Progress Report: 
  • Summary of Overall Progress
  • This grant focuses on generation of MPN stem cells from hESC or CB and correlates leukemic potential with MPN patient samples. In the first year of this grant, we have demonstrated that 1) hESC differentiate on AGM stroma to the CD34+ stage, which is associated with increased GATA-1, Flk2, GATA-2 and ADAR1 expression; 2) hESC CD34+ differentiation is enhanced in vitro and in vivo in the presence of a genetically engineered mouse stroma, which produces human stem cell factor, IL-3 and G-CSF; 3) hESC CD34+ cells can be transduced with our novel lentiviral BCR-ABL vector, which, unlike retroviral BCR-ABL, can transduce quiescent stem cells; 4) BCR-ABL expression by CP CML progenitors does not sustain engraftment but rather leukemic transformation is predicated, in part, on bcl-2 overexpression; 5) JAK2V617F expression in hES or CB stem cells is insufficient to induce leukemic transformation; 6) BCR-ABL transduced hESC CD34+ cells have significantly higher BCR-ABL transplantation potential than CP CML progenitors suggesting that they have higher survival capacity; 7) lentiviral -catenin transduction of BCR-ABL hESC CD34+ cells leads to serial transplantation indicative of LSC formation; 8) CML BC LSC persist in vivo despite potent BCR-ABL inhibition with dasatinib therapy and will likely require combined inhibitor therapy to eradicate. Currently, HEEBO arrays and phospho-flow studies are underway to detect bcl-2 family members and self-renewal protein expression in BCR-ABL and JAK2 V617F transduced hESC and CB CD34+ cells compared with MPN patient derived progenitors. This will aid in development of combined MPN stem cell inhibitor strategies in this grant.
  • This grant focuses on generation of myeloproliferative disorder or neoplasm (MPN) stem cells from pluripotent (hESC) or multipotent (CB) stem cells and seeks to correlate their leukemic potential with that of MPN patient sample-derived stem cells. To provide a platform for testing induction of stem cell differentiation, survival and self-renewal by BCR-ABL versus JAK2, hESC were utilized in the first year and as more patient samples and cord blood became available these were utilized.
  • In the first year of this grant, we found that hESC undergo hematopoietic differentiation on AGM stroma to the CD34+ stage resulting in increased GATA-1, Flk2, ADAR1 and GATA-2 expression. Moreover, CD34+ differentiation was enhanced on a genetically engineered mouse stroma (SL/M2) secreting human SCF, IL-3 and G-CSF. Lentiviral BCR-ABL transduced hESC-derived CD34+ cells had higher BCR-ABL+ cellular transplantation potential than chronic phase (CP) CML progenitors, indicative of a higher survival capacity. However, they sustained self-renewal only when co-transduced with lentiviral -catenin (Rusert et al, manuscript in preparation) suggesting that blast crisis evolution requires acquisition of both enhanced survival and self-renewal potential. Similarly, lentiviral mouse mutant JAK2 expression in hESC or CB stem cells was insufficient to produce self-renewing MPN stem cells, indicating that the cellular context, nature of the genetic driver and responses to extrinsic cues from the microenvironment play seminal roles in regulating therapeutically resistant MPN stem cell properties such as aberrant survival, differentiation, self-renewal and dormancy.
  • In the second year of this five year grant, we have focused on human cord blood (CB) stem cells compared with a large number of MPN patient samples propagated on SL/M2 stroma or in RAG2-/-c-/- mice to more adequately recapitulate the human MPN stem cell niche. Also, to more faithfully recapitulate human (rather than the previously published lentiviral mouse JAK2 vectors, Cancer Cell 2008) JAK2 driven MPNs, we cloned human wild-type JAK2 and human JAK2 V617F from MPN patient samples into lentiviral-GFP vectors (Court Recart A*, Geron I* et al, manuscript in preparation). We also incorporated full transcriptome RNA (ABI SOLiD 4.0) sequencing, PCR array and nanofluidic phosphoproteomics technology to better gauge the impact of JAK2 versus BCR-ABL on stem cell fate, survival, self-renewal and dormancy in the context of specific malignant microenvironments and the relative susceptibility of MPN stem cells in these niches to single agent molecularly targeted inhibitors.
  • This grant focuses on generation of myeloproliferative disorder or neoplasm (MPN) stem cells from pluripotent human embryonic stem cells (hESC) or multipotent cord blood (CB) stem cells, and seeks to correlate their leukemic potential with that of disease progression in MPN patient sample-derived stem cells. In the first and second years of this grant, we found that lentiviral BCR-ABL transduced hESC-derived CD34+ cells had higher leukemic transplantation potential than chronic phase (CP) chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) progenitors. However, they sustained self-renewal only when co-transduced with lentiviral beta-catenin suggesting that blast crisis (BC) evolution requires acquisition of both enhanced survival and self-renewal potential. Similarly, we have shown using lentiviral vectors that mouse and human mutant JAK2 were insufficient to produce self-renewing MPN stem cells. New results in Year 3 demonstrate that BCR-ABL and JAK2 activation drive differentiation of hematopoietic progenitors towards an erthyroid/myeloid lineage bias. We have used full transcriptome RNA-Sequencing (RNA-Seq) technology to evaluate the genetic and epigenetic status of BCR-ABL and JAK2-transduced normal progenitor cells as well as patient-derived MPN progenitors. This has allowed us to probe the mechanisms of aberrant differentiation and self-renewal of MPN progenitors and identify unique gene expression signatures of disease progression.
  • We previously found that overexpression and splice isoform switching of a key RNA editing enzyme – adenosine deaminase acting on dsRNA (ADAR), and splice isoform changes in pro-survival BCL2 family members, correspond with disease progression in CML. In the current reporting period, RNA-Seq analyses revealed that ADAR1-driven activation of RNA editing contributed to malignant progenitor reprogramming, promoting aberrant differentiation and self-renewal of MPN stem cells. Knocking down ADAR1 using lentiviral shRNA vectors reduced the self-renewal potential of CML progenitors. This work has culminated in a manuscript that has now been submitted to PNAS (Jiang et al.). Recent results also show that ADAR1 is activated in progenitors from patients with JAK2-driven MPNs. Thus, ADAR1 may be an important factor that works in concert with BCR-ABL or JAK2 to facilitate disease progression in MPNs.
  • Our results show that another self-renewal factor that may drive BCR-ABL or JAK2-mediated propagation of disease from quiescent MPN progenitors is Sonic hedgehog (Shh). We have examined the expression patterns of this pathway in MPN progenitors using qRT-PCR and RNA-Seq, and have tested a pharmacological inhibitor of this pathway in a robust stromal co-culture model of MPN progression to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).
  • In sum, we have utilized full transcriptome RNA-Seq and qRT-PCR coupled with hematopoietic progenitor assays and in vivo studies to evaluate the impact of JAK2 versus BCR-ABL on stem cell fate, survival, self-renewal and dormancy. These techniques have allowed us to investigate in more detail the role of genetic and epigenetic alterations that drive disease progression in the context of specific malignant microenvironments, and the relative susceptibility of MPN stem cells in these niches to single agent molecularly targeted inhibitors.
  • The main objectives of this project are generation of myeloproliferative disorder or neoplasm (MPN) stem cells from pluripotent human embryonic stem cells (hESC) or multipotent stem cells, and identification of crucial leukemia stem cell (LSC) survival and self-renewal factors that contribute to the development and progression of BCR-ABL and JAK2-driven hematopoietic disorders. A key finding of our work thus far is that in addition to activation of BCR-ABL or JAK2 oncogenes, generation of self-renewing MPN LSC requires stimulation of other pro-survival and self-renewal factors such as β-catenin, Sonic hedgehog (SHH), BCL2, and in particular the RNA editing enzyme ADAR1, which we identified as a novel regulator of LSC differentiation and self-renewal.
  • We have now completed comprehensive gene expression analyses from next-generation RNA-sequencing studies performed on normal and leukemic human hematopoietic progenitor cells from primary cord blood samples and adult normal peripheral blood samples, along with normal cord blood transduced with BCR-ABL or JAK2 oncogenes, and primary samples from patients with BCR-ABL+ chronic phase and blast crisis chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). These studies revealed that gene expression patterns in survival and self-renewal pathways (SHH, JAK2, ADAR1) clearly distinguish normal and leukemic progenitor cells as well as MPN disease stages. These data provide a vast resource for identification of LSC-specific biomarkers with diagnostic and prognostic clinical applications, as well as providing new potential therapeutic targets to prevent disease progression.
  • New results from RNA-sequencing studies reveal high levels of expression of inflammatory mediators in human blast crisis CML progenitors and in BCR-ABL transduced normal cord blood stem cells. Moreover, expression of the inflammation-responsive form of ADAR1 correlated with generation of an abnormally spliced GSK3β gene product that has been previously linked to LSC self-renewal. These results have now been published in the journal PNAS (Jiang et al.). Together, we have demonstrated that ADAR1 drives hematopoietic cell fate by skewing cell differentiation – a trend which occurs during normal bone marrow aging – and promotes LSC self-renewal through alternative splicing of critical survival and self-renewal factors. Notably, inhibition of ADAR1 through genetic knockdown strategies reduced self-renewal capacity of CML LSC, and may have important applications in treatment of other disorders that transform to acute leukemia. Thus, these results suggest that RNA editing (ADAR1) and splicing represent key therapeutic targets for preventing LSC self-renewal – a primary driver of leukemic progression.
  • Whole transcriptome profiling studies coupled with qRT-PCR, hematopoietic progenitor assays and in vivo studies have shown that combined inhibition of BCR-ABL and JAK2 is another effective method to reduce LSC self-renewal in pre-clinical models. New results show that lentivirus-enforced BCR-ABL or JAK2 expression in normal cord blood stem cells drives generation of distinct splice isoforms of STAT5a. While inhibition of JAK2/STAT5a signaling or BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase activity alone did not eradicate self-renewing LSC, combined JAK2 and BCR-ABL inhibition dramatically impaired LSC survival and self-renewal in the protective bone marrow niche, and increased the lifespan of serial transplant recipients. These effects were associated with reduction in STAT5a isoform expression – which represents a novel molecular marker of response to combined BCR-ABL/JAK2 inhibition – and altered expression of cell cycle genes in human progenitor cells harvested from the bone marrow of transplanted mice. These results are the subject of a new manuscript currently under review (Court et al.). Moreover, this work has led to the development of new experimental tools that will facilitate study of LSC maintenance and cell cycle status in the context of normal versus diseased bone marrow microenvironments. In sum, studies completed thus far have uncovered a role for RNA editing and splicing alterations in leukemic progression, particularly in specific microenvironments. Using specific inhibitors targeting BCR-ABL and JAK2, along with strategies to block RNA editing and aberrant splicing activities, we have been able to establish the relative susceptibility of MPN stem cells to molecular inhibitors with activity against LSC residing in select hematopoietic niches that are difficult to treat with conventional chemotherapeutic agents.
  • In the final year of this project, we focused on elucidating the mechanisms of leukemia stem cell (LSC) generation in JAK2 compared with BCR-ABL1 initiated myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN, previously called myeloproliferative disorders). To this end, we investigated the MPN stem cell propagating effects of BCR-ABL1 or JAK2 alone or in combination with activation of the human embryonic stem cell RNA editase, ADAR1. Recently, we discovered that ADAR1, which edits adenosine to inosine bases in the context of primate specific Alu sequences, leads to GSK3β missplicing and β-catenin activation in chronic phase (CP) CML progenitors leading to blast crisis (BC) transformation and LSC generation. In addition, variant isoform expression of a Wnt/β-catenin target gene, CD44, was also characteristic of LSC. In a previous report (Jiang et al., PNAS 2013), identification of ADAR1 as a malignant reprogramming factor represented the first description of RNA editing as a regulator of reprogramming. When lentivirally overexpressed, ADAR1 endows committed CP myeloid progenitors with self-renewal capacity. Further studies revealed that JAK2/STAT5a activates ADAR1 leading to deregulation of cell cycle progression and global down-regulation of microRNA expression thereby uncovering two additional key mechanisms of LSC generation in MPNs. This is consistent with our findings from gene expression profiling studies performed in the previous year, along with functional classification and network analysis using Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA), showing that cell cycle-related genes were significantly altered in human progenitors from xenografted mice treated with combination JAK2 and BCR-ABL inhibitor therapy compared with single agent therapies alone. Together these data suggest that combined BCR-ABL and JAK2 inhibition impairs LSC survival and self-renewal via cell cycle modulation. ADAR1 and other stem cell regulatory pathways such as CD44 represent novel targets to detect and eradicate the self-renewing LSC. We also performed new studies that elucidate the stem cell-intrinsic genetic changes that occur during human bone marrow aging, which may contribute to BCR-ABL or JAK2-dependent functional alterations.
  • This work has led to discovery of a novel role for embryonic stem cell genes and splice isoforms, including ADAR1 p150 and a transcript variant of CD44, in the maintenance of LSC that promote MPN progression. In addition, through the course of this research we have 1) developed novel lentiviral tools for investigating normal hematopoietic stem and progenitor (HSPC) and malignant LSC survival, differentiation, self-renewal, and cell cycle regulation, and 2) devised innovative LSC diagnostic strategies and 3) tested therapeutic strategies targeting LSC-associated RNA editing and splice isoform generation that selectively inhibit LSC self-renewal.

Development of Highly Active Anti-Leukemia Stem Cell Therapy (HALT)

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01430
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$19 999 826
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Collaborative Funder: 
Canada
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Leukemias are cancers of the blood forming cells that afflict both children and adults. Many drugs have been developed to treat leukemias and related diseases. These drugs are often effective when first given, but in many cases of adult leukemia, the disease returns in a form that is not curable, causing disability and eventual death. During the last few years, scientists have discovered that some leukemia cells possess stem cell properties that make them more potent in promoting leukemia growth and resistance to common types of treatment. These are called leukemia stem cells (LSC). More than in other cancers, scientists also understand the exact molecular changes in the blood forming cells that cause leukemias, but it has been very difficult to translate the scientific results into new and effective treatments. The main difficulty has been the failure of existing drugs to eliminate the small numbers of LSC that persist in patients, despite therapy, and that continue to grow, spread, invade and kill normal cells. In fact, the models used for drug development in the pharmaceutical industry have not been designed to detect drugs or drug combinations capable of destroying the LSC. Drugs against LSC may already exist, or could be simple to make, but there has not been an easy way to identify these drugs. Recently, physicians and scientists at universities and research institutes have developed tools to isolate and to analyze LSC donated by patients. By studying the LSC, the physicians and scientists have identified the molecules that these cells need to survive. The experimental results strongly suggest that it will eventually be possible to destroy LSC with drugs or drug combinations, with minimal damage to most normal cells. Now we need to translate the new knowledge into practical treatments. The CIRM Leukemia Team is composed of highly experienced scientists and physicians who first discovered LSC for many types of leukemia and who have developed the LSC systems to test drugs. The investigators in the Team have identified drug candidates from the vigorous California pharmaceutical industry, who have already performed expensive pharmacology and toxicology studies, but who lack the cells and model systems to assess a drug’s ability to eliminate leukemia stem cells. This Team includes experts in drug development, who have previously been successful in quickly bringing a new leukemia drug to clinical trials. The supported interactive group of physicians and scientists in California and the Collaborative Funding Partner country has the resources to introduce into the clinic, within four years, new drugs for leukemias that may also represent more effective therapies for other cancers for the benefit of our citizens.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Thousands of adults and children in California are afflicted with leukemia and related diseases. Although tremendous gains have been made in the treatment of childhood leukemia, 50% of adults diagnosed with leukemia will die of their disease. Current therapies can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year per patient, and do not cure the disease. For the health of the citizens of California, both physical and financial, we need to find a cure for these devastating illnesses. What has held up progress toward a cure? Compelling evidence indicates that the leukemias are not curable because available drugs do not destroy small numbers of multi-drug resistant leukemia stem cells. A team approach is necessary to find a cure for leukemia, which leverages the expertise in academia and industry. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies have developed drugs that inhibit pathways known to be involved in leukemia stem cell survival and growth, but are using them for unrelated indications. In addition, they do not have the expertise to determine whether the inhibitors will kill leukemia stem cells. The Leukemia Team possesses stem cell expertise and has developed state of the art systems to determine whether drugs will eradicate leukemia stem cells. They have also have access to technologies that may allow them to identify patients who will respond to the treatment. The development plan established by the Leukemia Disease Team will also serve as a model for the clinical development of drugs against solid tumor stem cells, which are not as well understood. In summary, the benefits to the citizens of California from the CIRM disease specific grant in leukemia are: (1) direct benefit to the thousands of leukemia patients (2) financial savings due to definitive treatments that eliminate the need for costly maintenance therapies
Progress Report: 
  • Development of Highly Active Leukemia Therapy (HALT)
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood forming cells that affect both children and adults. Although major advances have been made in the treatment of leukemias, many patients still succumb to the disease. In these patients, the leukemias may progress despite therapy because they harbor primitive malignant stem-like cells that are resistant to most drugs. This CIRM disease specific grant aims to develop a combination of highly active anti-leukemic therapy (HALT) that can destroy the drug-resistant cancer stem-like cells, without severely harming normal cells.
  • During the current year of support, substantial progress has been made in achieving this goal. The CIRM investigators have shown that two different drugs that inhibit different proteins in leukemia stem cells can sensitize them to chemotherapeutic agents, and block their ability to self-renew. The CIRM investigators have also demonstrated that two different antibodies against molecules on the surface of the leukemia cells can inhibit their survival in both test tube experiments and in mouse models.
  • Extensive experiments are underway to confirm these promising results. The results will enable the planning and implementation of potentially transforming clinical trials in leukemia patients, during the period of CIRM grant support.
  • During the past 12 months, our disease team has made further progress in
  • the development of stem cell targeted treatment for chronic lymphocytic
  • leukemias and other leukemias. Stem cells express some molecules on the
  • surface that are different from the corresponding molecules on adult
  • cells. The ROR1 molecule is highly expressed by malignant cells from
  • patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as by progenitor cells
  • from other forms of leukemia and lymphoma. It is not expressed by normal
  • adult cells. With the support of the CIRM Disease Team grant, the
  • cooperating investigators have prepared monoclonal antibodies against the
  • ROR1 molecule, that are potent and specific. In animal models, the
  • antibodies can retard leukemia growth and spread. Unlike other anti-cancer
  • drugs, the new antibodies are not toxic for normal bone marrow cells.
  • Thus, they can potentiate the action of other agents used for the
  • treatment of leukemia.
  • The disease team is now focused on the pre-clinical development, safety
  • testing, and scale-up manufacturing of our new, promising agents, in
  • preparation for their introduction into the clinic.
  • During the past 12 months, our disease team has made further progress in
  • the development of stem cell targeted treatment for chronic lymphocytic
  • leukemias and other leukemias. Stem cells express some molecules on the
  • surface that are different from the corresponding molecules on adult
  • cells. The ROR1 molecule is highly expressed by malignant cells from
  • patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as by progenitor cells
  • from other forms of leukemia and lymphoma. It is not expressed by normal
  • adult cells. With the support of the CIRM Disease Team grant, the
  • cooperating investigators have prepared a humanized monoclonal antibody against the
  • ROR1 molecule, that is potent and specific. In animal models, the
  • antibodies can retard leukemia growth and spread. Unlike other anti-cancer
  • drugs, the new antibodies are not toxic for normal bone marrow cells.
  • Thus, they can potentiate the action of other agents used for the
  • treatment of leukemia.
  • The disease team is now focused on the pre-clinical development, safety
  • testing, and scale-up manufacturing of our new, promising agents, in
  • preparation for their introduction into the clinic.
  • During the past 12 months, our disease team has made further progress in
  • the development of stem cell targeted treatment for chronic lymphocytic
  • leukemias and other leukemias. Stem cells express some molecules on the
  • surface that are different from the corresponding molecules on adult
  • cells. The ROR1 molecule is highly expressed by malignant cells from
  • patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as by progenitor cells
  • from other forms of leukemia and lymphoma. It is not expressed by normal
  • adult cells. With the support of the CIRM Disease Team grant, the
  • cooperating investigators have prepared a humanized monoclonal antibody against the
  • ROR1 molecule, that is potent and specific. In animal models, the
  • antibodies can retard leukemia growth and spread.
  • The disease team has now finalized the pre-clinical development, safety
  • testing, and scale-up manufacturing of our new, promising agent, in
  • preparation for their introduction into the clinic.

Clinical Development of an N-cadherin Antibody to Target Cancer Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Early Translational IV
Grant Number: 
TR4-06867
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$4 075 668
Disease Focus: 
Prostate Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Metastatic disease and the castration resistance remain tremendous challenges in the treatment of prostate cancer. New targeted treatments, such as the ant-testosterone medication enzalutamide, have improved the survival of men with advanced disease, but a majority develops treatment resistance. The field of cancer stem cells hypothesizes that treatment resistance emerges because stem cells are inherently resistant to our current therapies and eventually repopulate tumors. One mechanism by which cancer stem cells resist therapy is through acquisition of an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), a phenomenon of normal development used by cancers to survive and metastasize. Our laboratory has shown that prostate cancers undergo an EMT that leads to invasion, metastasis and treatment resistance. N-cadherin, a critical regulator of EMT, is expressed in most castration resistant prostate cancers (CRPC) and is sufficient to promote treatment resistance. We therefore developed antibodies against N-cadherin, which are able to inhibit growth, metastasis and progression of prostate cancers in vivo. The goal of this translational application is to move this promising treatment from the laboratory to the clinic by making the antibody human, making it bind more strongly, and then testing it for toxicity, behavior and anti-tumor activity. At the completion of this project, we will be poised to manufacture this lead molecule and move expeditiously to Phase I clinical studies.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in Californian men. With an aging population, this problem is expected to continue to grow despite recent advances in treatment. The goal of this application is to develop a novel antibody targeting a cancer stem cell target in hormone and treatment refractory prostate cancer. The benefit to the California, if successful, will be the development of a novel therapy against this common disease.

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