Heart Disease

Coding Dimension ID: 
295
Coding Dimension path name: 
Heart Disease

Antibody tools to deplete or isolate teratogenic, cardiac, and blood stem cells from hESCs

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies II
Grant Number: 
RT2-02060
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 869 487
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Heart Disease
Liver Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Purity is as important for cell-based therapies as it is for treatments based on small-molecule drugs or biologics. Pluripotent stem cells possess two properties: they are capable of self regeneration and they can differentiate to all different tissue types (i.e. muscle, brain, heart, etc.). Despite the promise of pluripotent stem cells as a tool for regenerative medicine, these cells cannot be directly transplanted into patients. In their undifferentiated state they harbor the potential to develop into tumors. Thus, tissue-specific stem cells as they exist in the body or as derived from pluripotent cells are the true targets of stem cell-based therapeutic research, and the cell types most likely to be used clinically. Existing protocols for the generation of these target cells involve large scale differentiation cultures of pluripotent cells that often produce a mixture of different cell types, only a small fraction of which may possess therapeutic potential. Furthermore, there remains the real danger that a small number of these cells remains undifferentiated and retains tumor-forming potential. The ideal pluripotent stem cell-based therapeutic would be a pure population of tissue specific stem cells, devoid of impurities such as undifferentiated or aberrantly-differentiated cells. We propose to develop antibody-based tools and protocols to purify therapeutic stem cells from heterogeneous cultures. We offer two general strategies to achieve this goal. The first is to develop antibodies and protocols to identify undifferentiated tumor-forming cells and remove them from cultures. The second strategy is to develop antibodies that can identify and isolate heart stem cells, and blood-forming stem cells capable of engraftment from cultures of pluripotent stem cells. The biological underpinning of our approach is that each cell type can be identified by a signature surface marker expression profile. Antibodies that are specific to cell surface markers can be used to identify and isolate stem cells using flow cytometry. We can detect and isolate rare tissue stem cells by using combinations of antibodies that correspond to the surface marker signature for the given tissue stem cell. We can then functionally characterize the potential of these cells for use in regenerative medicine. Our proposal aims to speed the clinical application of therapies derived from pluripotent cell products by reducing the risk of transplanting the wrong cell type - whether it is a tumor-causing residual pluripotent cell or a cell that is not native to the site of transplant - into patients. Antibodies, which exhibit exquisitely high sensitivity and specificity to target cellular populations, are the cornerstone of our proposal. The antibodies (and other technologies and reagents) identified and generated as a result of our experiments will greatly increase the safety of pluripotent stem cell-derived cellular therapies.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Starting with human embryonic stem cells (hESC), which are capable of generating all cell types in the body, we aim to identify and isolate two tissue-specific stem cells – those that can make the heart and the blood – and remove cells that could cause tumors. Heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the West. In California, 70,000 people die annually from cardiovascular diseases, and the cost exceeded $48 billion in 2006. Despite major advancement in treatments for patients with heart failure, which is mainly due to cellular loss upon myocardial injury, the mortality rate remains high. Similarly, diseases of the blood-forming system, e.g. leukemias, remain a major health problem in our state. hESC and induced pluripotent stem cells (collectively, pluripotent stem cells, or PSC) could provide an attractive therapeutic option to treat patients with damaged or defective organs. PCS can differentiate into, and may represent a major source of regenerating, cells for these organs. However, the major issues that delay the clinical translation of PSC derivatives include lack of purification technologies for heart- or blood-specific stem cells from PSC cultures and persistence of pluripotent cells that develop into teratomas. We propose to develop reagents that can prospectively identify and isolate heart and blood stem cells, and to test their functional benefit upon engraftment in mice. We will develop reagents to identify and remove residual PSC, which give rise to teratomas. These reagents will enable us to purify patient-specific stem cells, which lack cancer-initiating potential, to replenish defective or damaged tissue. The reagents generated in these studies can be patented forming an intellectual property portfolio shared by the state and the institutions where the research is carried out. The funds generated from the licensing of these technologies will provide revenue for the state, will help increase hiring of faculty and staff (many of whom will bring in other, out-of-state funds to support their research) and could be used to ameliorate the costs of clinical trials – the final step in translation of basic science research to clinical use. Only California businesses are likely to be able to license these reagents and to develop them into diagnostic and therapeutic entities; such businesses are at the heart of the CIRM strategy to enhance the California economy. Most importantly, this research will set the platform for future stem cell-based therapies. Because tissue stem cells are capable of lifelong self-renewal, stem cell therapies have the potential to be a single, curative treatment. Such therapies will address chronic diseases with no cure that cause considerable disability, leading to substantial medical expense. We expect that California hospitals and health care entities will be first in line for trials and therapies. Thus, California will benefit economically and it will help advance novel medical care.
Progress Report: 
  • Our program is focused on improving methods that can be used to purify stem cells so that they can be used safely and effectively for therapy. A significant limitation in translating laboratory discoveries into clinical practice remains our inability to separate specific stem cells that generate one type of desired tissue from a mixture of ‘pluripotent’ stem cells, which generate various types of tissue. An ideal transplant would then consist of only tissue-specific stem cells that retain a robust regenerative potential. Pluripotent cells, on the other hand, pose the risk, when transplanted, of generating normal tissue in the wrong location, abnormal tissue, or cancer. Thus, we have concentrated our efforts to devise strategies to either make pluripotent cells develop into desired tissue-specific stem cells or to separate these desired cells from a mixture of many types of cells.
  • Our approach to separating tissue-specific stem cells from mixed cultures is based on the theory that every type of cell has a very specific set of molecules on its surface that can act as a signature. Once this signature is known, antibodies (molecules that specifically bind to these surface markers) can be used to tag all the cells of a desired type and remove them from a mixed population. To improve stem cell therapy, our aim is to identify the signature markers on: (1) the stem cells that are pluripotent or especially likely to generate tumors; and (2) the tissue-specific stem cells. By then developing antibodies to the pluripotent or tumor-causing cells, we can exclude them from a group of cells to be transplanted. By developing antibodies to the tissue-specific stem cells, we can remove them from a mixture to select them for transplantation. For the second approach, we are particularly interested in targeting stem cells that develop into heart (cardiac) tissue and cells that develop into mature blood cells. As we develop ways to isolate the desired cells, we test them by transplanting them into animals and observing how they grow.
  • Thus, the first goal of our program is to develop tools to isolate pluripotent stem cells, especially those that can generate tumors in transplant recipients. To this end, we tested an antibody aimed at a pluripotent cell marker (stage-specific embryonic antigen-5 [SSEA-5]) that we previously identified. We transplanted into animals a population of stem cells that either had the SSEA-5-expressing cells removed or did not have them removed. The animals that received the transplants lacking the SSEA-5-expressing cells developed smaller and fewer teratomas (tumors consisting of an abnormal mixture of many tissues). Approaching the problem from another angle, we analyzed teratomas in animals that had received stem cell transplants. We found SSEA-5 on a small group of cells we believe to be responsible for generating the entire tumor.
  • The second goal of the program is to develop methods to selectively culture cardiac stem cells or isolate them from mixed cultures. Thus, in the last year we tested procedures for culturing pluripotent stem cells under conditions that cause them to develop into cardiac stem cells. We also tested a combination of four markers that we hypothesized would tag cardiac stem cells for separation. When these cells were grown under the proper conditions, they began to ‘beat’ and had electrical activity similar to that seen in normal heart cells. When we transplanted the cells with the four markers into mice with normal or damaged hearts, they seemed to develop into mature heart cells. However, these (human) cells did not integrate with the native (mouse) heart cells, perhaps because of the species difference. So we varied the approach and transplanted the human heart stem cells into human heart tissue that had been previously implanted in mice. In this case, we found some evidence that the transplanted cells differentiated into mature heart cells and integrated with the surrounding human cells.
  • The third goal of our project is to culture stem cells that give rise only to blood cells and test them for transplantation. In the past year, we developed a new procedure for treating cultures of pluripotent stem cells so that they differentiate into specific stem cells that generate blood cells and blood vessels. We are now working to refine our understanding and methods so that we end up with a culture of differentiated stem cells that generates only blood cells and not vessels.
  • In summary, we have discovered markers and tested combinations of antibodies for these markers that may select unwanted cells for removal or wanted cells for inclusion in stem cell transplants. We have also begun to develop techniques for taking a group of stem cells that can generate many tissue types, and growing them under conditions that cause them to develop into tissue-specific stem cells that can be used safely for transplantation.
  • Our program is focused on improving methods to purify blood-forming and heart-forming stem cells so that they can be used safely and effectively for therapy. Current methods to identify and isolate blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow and blood are efficient. In addition, we found that if blood-forming stem cells are transplanted, they create in the recipient an immune system that will tolerate (i.e., not reject) organs, tissues, or other types of tissue stem cells (e.g. skin, brain, or heart) from the same donor. Many living or recently deceased donors often cannot contribute these stem cells, so we need, in the future, a single biological source of each of the different types of stem cells (e.g., blood and heart) to change the entire field of regenerative medicine. The ultimate reason to fund embryonic stem cell and other pluripotent stem cell research is to create safe banks of predefined pluripotent cells. Protocols to differentiate these cells to the appropriate blood-forming stem cells could then be used to induce tolerance of other tissue stem cells from the same embryonic stem cell line. However, existing protocols to differentiation stem cells often lead to pluripotent cells (cells that generate multiple types of tissue), which pose a risk of generating normal tissue in the wrong location, abnormal tissue, or cancers called teratomas. To address these problems, we have concentrated our efforts to devise strategies to (a) make pluripotent cells develop into desired tissue-specific stem cells, and (b) to separate these desired cells from all other cells, including teratoma-causing cells. In the first funding period of this grant, we succeeded in raising antibodies that identify and eliminate teratoma-causing cells.
  • In the past year, we identified surface markers of cells that can only give rise to heart tissue. First we studied the genes that were activated in these cells, further confirming that they would likely give rise to heart tissue. Using antibodies against these surface markers, we purified heart stem cells to a higher concentration than has been achieved by other purification methods. We showed that these heart stem cells can be transplanted such that they integrate into the human heart, but not mouse heart, and participate in strong and correctly timed beating.
  • In the embryo, a group of early stem cells in the developing heart give rise to (a) heart cells; (b) cells lining the inner walls of blood vessels; and (c) muscle cells surrounding blood vessels. We identified cell surface markers that could be used to separate each of these subsets from each other and from their common stem cell parents. Finally, we determined that a specific chemical in the body, fibroblast growth factor, increased the growth of a group of pluripotent stem cells that give rise to more specific stem cells that produce either blood cells or the lining of blood vessels. This chemical also prevented blood-forming stem cells from developing into specific blood cells.
  • In the very early embryo, pluripotent cells separate into three distinct categories called ‘germ layers’: the endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. Each of these germ layers later gives rise to certain organs. Our studies of the precursors of mesoderm (the layer that generates the heart, blood vessels, blood, etc.) led us by exclusion to develop techniques to direct ES cell differentiation towards endoderm (the layer that gives rise to liver, pancreas, intestinal lining, etc.). A graduate student before performed most of this work before he joined in our effort to find ways to make functional blood forming stem cells from ES cells. He had identified a group of proteins that we could use to sequentially direct embryonic stem cells to develop almost exclusively into endoderm, then subsets of digestive tract cells, and finally liver stem cells. These liver stem cells derived from embryonic stem cells integrated into mouse livers and showed signs of normal liver tissue function (e.g., secretion of albumin, a major protein in the blood). Using the guidelines of the protocols that generated these liver stem cells, we have now turned our attention back to our goal of generating from mesoderm the predecessors of blood-forming stem cells, and, ultimately, blood-forming stem cells.
  • In summary, we have continued to discover signals that cause pluripotent stem cells (which can generate many types of tissue) to become tissue-specific stem cells that exclusively develop into only heart, blood cells, blood vessel lining cells, cells that line certain sections of the digestive tract, or liver cells. This work has also involved determining the distinguishing molecules on the surface of various cells that allow them to be isolated and nearly purified. These results bring us closer to being able to purify a desired type of stem cell to be transplanted safely to generate only a single type of tissue.
  • The main focus of our program is to improve methods to generate pure populations of tissue-specific stem cells that form only heart tissue or blood. Such tissue-specific stem cells are necessary for developing safe and effective therapies. If injected into patients with heart damage, heart-forming stem cells might be used to regenerate healthy heart tissue. Blood-forming stem cells are capable of regenerating the blood-forming system after cancer therapy and replacing a defective blood forming-system. We showed that blood-forming stem cells from a given donor induce in the recipient permanent transplant tolerance of all organs, tissues, or other tissue stem cells from the same donor. Therefore, having a single biological source of each of the different types of stem cells (e.g., blood and heart) would revolutionize regenerative medicine.
  • Our projects involve generating tissue-specific stem cells from pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), the latter of which are stem cells that can form all tissues of the body. PSCs (which include embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells) can turn into all types of more specialized cells in a process known as “differentiation.” Because PSCs can be grown to very large numbers, differentiating PSCs into tissue-specific stem cells could lead to banks of defined tissue stem cells for transplantation into patients—the ultimate reason to conduct PSC research.
  • However, current methods to differentiate PSCs often generate mixtures of various cell types that are unsafe for injection into patients. Therefore, generating a pure population of a desired cell type from PSC is pivotal for regenerative medicine—purity is a key concern for cell therapy as it is with medications.
  • We have invented technologies to purify desired types of cells from complex cell populations, allowing us to precisely isolate a pure population of tissue-specific stem cells from differentiating PSCs for cell therapy. For instance, in our work on heart-forming cells, we developed labels for cells that progressively give rise to heart cells. We used these labeled cells to clarify the natural, stepwise, differentiation process that leads from PSCs to heart-forming stem cells, and finally to different cells within the heart. Exploiting these technologies to isolate desired cell types, we have completed the first step of turning human PSCs into heart-forming stem cells. In the laboratory, when we transplanted these heart-forming stem cells into a human heart, they integrated with the surrounding tissue and participated in correctly timed beating. In the future we hope to deliver heart-forming stem cells into the damaged heart to regenerate healthy tissue.
  • We have also attempted to turn PSCs into blood-forming stem cells by understanding the complex process of blood formation in the early embryo. As mentioned above, if blood-forming stem cells are transplanted into patients, they create in the recipient an immune system that will tolerate (i.e., not reject) other tissues and types of tissue stem cells (e.g., for skin or heart) from the same donor. Thus, turning PSCs into blood-forming stem cells will provide the basis for all regenerative medicine, whereby the blood-forming stem cells and the needed other tissue stem cells can be generated from the same pluripotent cell line and be transplanted together.
  • In parallel studies to those above, we have turned PSCs into liver-forming stem cells. In the embryo, the liver emerges from a cell type known as endoderm, whereas the blood and heart emerge from a different cell type known as mesoderm. We learned that PSCs could only be steered to form endoderm (and subsequently, liver) by diverting them away from the path that leads to mesoderm. Through this approach, we could turn human PSCs into endoderm cells (at >99% purity) and then into liver-forming stem cells that, when injected into the mouse liver, gave rise to human liver cells. This could be of therapeutic importance for human patients with liver damage.
  • Finally, we have developed methods to deplete PSCs from mixtures of cells differentiated from PSCs, because residual PSCs in these mixtures can form tumors (known as teratomas). These methods should increase the safety of PSC-derived tissue stem cell therapy.
  • In summary, we have developed methods to turn PSCs to tissue-specific stem cells that exclusively develop into only heart, blood cells, or liver cells. This work has involved determining the distinguishing molecules on the surface of various cells that allow them to be isolated and nearly purified. These results bring us closer to being able to purify a desired type of stem cell to be transplanted safely to generate only a single type of tissue.

A Novel Engineered Niche to Explore the Vasculogenic Potential of Embryonic Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
New Faculty I
Grant Number: 
RN1-00566
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 108 683
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 

Transcriptional Regulation of Cardiac Pacemaker Cell Progenitors

Funding Type: 
New Faculty I
Grant Number: 
RN1-00562
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 149 806
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • Cardiovascular disease is a major source of morbidity and mortality in our society. In this case, cardiac arrhythmias are leading cause of sudden cardiac death. Therefore, it is empirical to identify the source and mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmias. The long-term objectives of our laboratory is identify the key molecules that are involved in differentiation and formation of cardiac conduction system. We utilize mouse as a model system to identify the molecular pathways leading the formation of cardiac conduction cells.
  • In the past year we have identified some of regulatory pathways that allows for the proper formation of cardiac conduction tissue. We are using mice that have specific mutations in the cells of cardiac conduction system to identify these special pathways. One such molecule that orchestrates the differentiation of cardiac conduction cells is Nkx2-5. We have determined that loss of this transcription factor is of significant detriment to the health of cardiac conduction and is the underlying factor in common arrhythmias. Our ultimate goal is to utilize the information obtained by our studies in mice, and apply them towards therapeutic functions in humans. To this end, we are trying to develop a mechanism to reprogram cardiac stem cells to behave like conduction system cells. Ultimately, this approach would be used towards stem cell therapy for cardiac arrhythmias.
  • A leading cause of heart related morbidity and mortality is cardiac rhythm disturbances. In fact sudden cardiac death is primarily due to abnormalities of cardiac electrical conduction abnormalities. At present, the therapeutic approaches to treatment of cardiac arrhythmias are limited to cardiac device including pacemakers and defibrillators. These devices are expensive and carry additional risks to the patients during after surgical implantation. Our overall goal is to identify the key regulatory pathways that lead to differentiation and formation of various cells type of cardiac conduction cells.
  • Our laboratories focuses on the molecular pathways that guide the formation of distinct cell types in the human heart. The proper formation of these cell types from a unique cardiac progenitor is an important, yet complex biological question that our laboratory is aiming to answer. In this regard, in the past year we have identified a unique molecular pathway by which a unique population of cardiac progenitor cells are added to heart and also participate in the formation and patterning of the cardiac pacemaker cells. We are using mouse models to study the formation of cardiac stem cells and also the mechanisms by which they acquire distinct identities. To this end, our mutant mouse models display abnormal formation of the SA node which is the primary site of cardiac beating. By studying the mutant mice generated by genetic manipulation of stem cells, we aim to further advance our knowledge of different forms of cardiac stem cell formation. During the past year we have made significant progress in elucidating the ways by which cardiac progenitor cells contribute the pacemaker cell formation and putting forth new paradigms for cardiac pacemaker stem cell formation.
  • Heart disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in our society. Congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias are the most common mechanism by which heart disease leads to sudden cardiac death. Genetic studies in the general population have determined that susceptibility to cardiac arrhythmia and congestive heart failure is due to mutations in certain genes that guide cardiac development. Specifically, mutations in certain molecules called transcription factors are the leading mechanisms by which genetic defects lead to congenital heart defects and cardiac arrhythmias. Our laboratory studies the mechanism by which transcription factors and signaling molecules guide cardiac development and lead to selective formation of different cardiac cells. Our laboratory has pioneered work that has lead to the discovery of mutations that lead to cardiac arrhythmia and heart failure. In the past year, we have made steady progress in characterization of some of the key factors that guide cardiac cell development. To this end, we have identified a molecule called R-spondin-3 (Rspo3) that is critical for cardiac cell growth and probably survival. We have determined that Rspo3 functions to keep cardiac cell proliferating and loss of Rspo3 leads to thin cardiac muscle and heart failure. The mutation of Rspo3 in mouse leads to not only heart failure, but also leads to arrhythmias and valvlular heart disease. Therefore, Rspo3 functions in multiple aspect cardiac development and plays an essential role in proliferation of resident cardiac stem cells. Since, Rspo3 is known to function in a specific cardiac pathway called Wnt pathway, our hypothesis is that Rspo3 is a needed growth factor that is guiding cardiac stem cells towards growth and proliferation. We have submitted a manuscript about our work with Rspo3.
  • Our laboratory has also identified a molecule called OSR1 which plays a critical role in cardiac septation and development of conduction system. Mice that lack Osr1 have defects in atrial septation and show evidence of cardiac arrhythmias. We are in the process of submitting a manuscript that describes our results with OSR1. In summary, the generous funding by CIRM has helped us identify important new molecules with novel mechanisms critical in cardiac development.
  • Heart disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in our society. Congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias are the most common mechanism by which heart disease leads to sudden cardiac death. Genetic studies in the general population have determined that susceptibility to cardiac arrhythmia and congestive heart failure is due to mutations in certain genes that guide cardiac development. Specifically, mutations in certain molecules called transcription factors are the leading mechanisms by which genetic defects lead to congenital heart defects and cardiac arrhythmias. Our laboratory studies the mechanism by which transcription factors and signaling molecules guide cardiac development and lead to selective formation of different cardiac cells. Our laboratory has pioneered work that has lead to the discovery of mutations that lead to cardiac arrhythmia and heart failure. In the past year, we have made steady progress in characterization of some of the key factors that guide cardiac cell development. To this end, we have identified a molecule called R-spondin-3 (Rspo3) that is critical for cardiac cell growth and probably survival. We have determined that Rspo3 functions to keep cardiac cell proliferating and loss of Rspo3 leads to thin cardiac muscle and heart failure. The mutation of Rspo3 in mouse leads to not only heart failure, but also leads to arrhythmias and valvlular heart disease. Therefore, Rspo3 functions in multiple aspect cardiac development and plays an essential role in proliferation of resident cardiac stem cells. Since, Rspo3 is known to function in a specific cardiac pathway called Wnt pathway, our hypothesis is that Rspo3 is a needed growth factor that is guiding cardiac stem cells towards growth and proliferation. We have submitted a manuscript about our work with Rspo3.
  • Our laboratory has also identified a molecule called OSR1 which plays a critical role in cardiac septation and development of conduction system. Mice that lack Osr1 have defects in atrial septation and show evidence of cardiac arrhythmias. We are in the process of submitting a manuscript that describes our results with OSR1. In summary, the generous funding by CIRM has helped us identify important new molecules with novel mechanisms critical in cardiac development.
  • The aims of the current proposal are to gain insight into the mechanisms of cardiac development as it relates to cardiac conduction system
  • and overall maturation of atria and ventricle. Our studies have identified a new key molecule that directs the maturation of cardiac cells. The secreted factor RSPO3 was found to have a significant role in the proper maturation of cardiac ventricles. We now aim to further identify the potential mechanisms by which RSPO3 Functions in the developmental maturation of the mammalian heart

Enhancing healing via Wnt-protein mediated activation of endogenous stem cells

Funding Type: 
Early Translational I
Grant Number: 
TR1-01249
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$6 762 954
Disease Focus: 
Bone or Cartilage Disease
Stroke
Neurological Disorders
Heart Disease
Neurological Disorders
Skin Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • In the first year of CIRM funding our objectives were to optimize the activity of the Wnt protein for use in the body and then to test, in a variety of injury models, the effects of this lipid-packaged form of Wnt. We have made considerable progress on both of these fronts. For example, in Roel Nusse and Jill Helms’ groups, we have been able to generate large amounts of the mouse form of Wnt3a protein and package it into liposomal vesicles, which can then be used by all investigators in their studies of injury and repair. Also, Roel Nusse succeeded in generating human Wnt3a protein. This is a major accomplishment since our ultimate goal is to develop this regenerative medicine tool for use in humans. In Jill Helms’ lab we made steady progress in standardizing the activity of the liposomal Wnt3a formulation, and this is critically important for all subsequent studies that will compare the efficacy of this treatment across multiple injury repair scenarios.
  • Each group began testing the effects of liposomal Wnt3a treatment for their particular application. For example, in Theo Palmer’s group, the investigators tested how liposomal Wnt3a affected cells in the brain following a stroke. We previously found that Wnt3A promotes the growth of neural stem cells in a petri dish and we are now trying to determine if delivery of Wnt3A can enhance the activity of endogenous stem cells in the brain and improve the level of recovery following stroke. Research in the first year examined toxicity of a liposome formulation used to deliver Wnt3a and we found it to be well tolerated after injection into the brains of mice. We also find that liposomal Wnt3a can promote the production of new neurons following stroke. The ongoing research involves experiments to determine if these changes in stem cell activity are accompanied by improved neurological function. In Jill Helms’ group, the investigators tested how liposomal Wnt3a affected cells in a bone injury site. We made a significant discovery this year, by demonstrating that liposomal Wnt3a stimulates the proliferation of skeletal progenitor cells and accelerates their differentiation into osteoblasts (published in Science Translational Medicine 2010). We also started testing liposomal Wnt3a for safety and toxicity issues, both of which are important prerequisites for use of liposomal Wnt3a in humans. Following a heart attack (i.e., myocardial infarction) we found that endogenous Wnt signaling peaks between post-infarct day 5-7. We also found that small aggregates of cardiac cells called cardiospheres respond to Wnt in a dose-responsive manner. In skin wounds, we tested the effect of boosting Wnt signaling during skin wound healing. We found that the injection of Wnt liposomes into wounds enhanced the regeneration of hair follicles, which would otherwise not regenerate and make a scar instead. The speed and strength of wound closure are now being measured.
  • In aggregate, our work on this project continues to move forward with a number of great successes, and encouraging data to support our hypothesis that augmenting Wnt signaling following tissue injury will provide beneficial effects.
  • In the second year of CIRM funding our objectives were to optimize packaging of the developmental candidate, Wnt3a protein, and then to continue to test its efficacy to enhance tissue healing. We continue to make considerable progress on the stated objectives. In Roel Nusse’s laboratory, human Wnt3a protein is now being produced using an FDA-approved cell line, and Jill Helms’ lab the protein is effectively packaged into lipid particles that delay degradation of the protein when it is introduced into the body.
  • Each group has continued to test the effects of liposomal Wnt3a treatment for their particular application. In Theo Palmer’s group we have studied how liposomal Wnt3a affects neurogenesis following stroke. We now know that liposomal Wnt3a transiently stimulates neural progenitor cell proliferation. We don’t see any functional improvement after stroke, though, which is our primary objective.
  • In Jill Helms’ group we’ve now shown that liposomal Wnt3a enhances fracture healing and osseointegration of dental and orthopedic implants and now we demonstrate that liposomal Wnt3a also can improve the bone-forming capacity of bone marrow grafts, especially when they are taken from aged animals.
  • We’ve also tested the ability of liposomal Wnt3a to improve heart function after a heart attack (i.e., myocardial infarction). Small aggregates of cardiac progenitor cells called cardiospheres proliferate to Wnt3a in a dose-responsive manner, and we see an initial improvement in cardiac function after treatment of cells with liposomal Wnt3a. the long-term improvements, however, are not significant and this remains our ultimate goal. In skin wounds, we tested the effect of boosting Wnt signaling during wound healing. We found that the injection of liposomal Wnt3a into wounds enhanced the regeneration of hair follicles, which would otherwise not regenerate and make a scar instead. The speed of wound closure is also enhanced in regions of the skin where there are hair follicles.
  • In aggregate, our work continues to move forward with a number of critical successes, and encouraging data to support our hypothesis that augmenting Wnt signaling following tissue injury will provide beneficial effects.
  • Every adult tissue harbors stem cells. Some tissues, like bone marrow and skin, have more adult stem cells and other tissues, like muscle or brain, have fewer. When a tissue is injured, these stem cells divide and multiply but only to a limited extent. In the end, the ability of a tissue to repair itself seems to depend on how many stem cells reside in a particular tissue, and the state of those stem cells. For example, stress, disease, and aging all diminish the capacity of adult stem cells to respond to injury, which in turn hinders tissue healing. One of the great unmet challenges for regenerative medicine is to devise ways to increase the numbers of these “endogenous” stem cells, and revive their ability to self-renew and proliferate.
  • The scientific basis for our work rests upon our demonstration that a naturally occurring stem cell growth factor, Wnt3a, can be packaged and delivered in such a way that it is robustly stimulates stem cells within an injured tissue to divide and self-renew. This, in turn, leads to unprecedented tissue healing in a wide array of bone injuries especially in aged animals. As California’s population ages, the cost to treat such skeletal injuries in the elderly will skyrocket. Thus, our work addresses a present and ongoing challenge to healthcare for the majority of Californians and the world, and we do it by mimicking the body’s natural response to injury and repair.
  • To our knowledge, there is no existing technology that displays such effectiveness, or that holds such potential for the stem cell-based treatment of skeletal injuries, as does a L-Wnt3a strategy. Because this approach directly activates the body’s own stem cells, it avoids many of the pitfalls associated with the introduction of foreign stem cells or virally reprogrammed autologous stem cells into the human body. In summary, our data show that L-Wnt3a constitutes a viable therapeutic approach for the treatment of skeletal injuries, especially those in individuals with diminished healing potential.
  • This progress report covers the period between Sep 01 2012through Aug 31 2013, and summarizes the work accomplished under ET funding TR1-01249. Under this award we developed a Wnt protein-based platform for activating a patient’s own stem cells for the purpose of tissue regeneration.
  • At the beginning of our grant period we generated research grade human WNT3A protein in quantities sufficient for all our discovery experiments. We then tested the ability of this WNT protein therapeutic to improve the healing response in animal models of stroke, heart attack, skin wounding, and bone fracture. These experimental models recapitulated some of the most prevalent and debilitating human diseases that collectively, affect millions of Californians.
  • At the end of year 2, we assembled an external review panel to select the promising clinical indication. The scientific advisory board unanimously selected skeletal repair as the leading indication. The WNT protein is notoriously difficult to purify; consequently in year 3 we developed new methods to streamline the purification of WNT proteins, and the packaging of the WNT protein into liposomal vesicles that stabilized the protein for in vivo use.
  • In years 3 and 4 we continued to accrue strong scientific evidence in both large and small animal models that a WNT protein therapeutic accelerates bone regeneration in critical size bony non-unions, in fractures, and in cases of implant osseointegration. In this last year of funding, we clarified and characterized the mechanism of action of the WNT protein, by showing that it activates endogenous stem cells, which in turn leads to faster healing of a range of different skeletal defects.
  • In this last year we also identified a therapeutic dose range for the WNT protein, and developed a route and method of delivery that was simultaneously effective and yet limited the body’s exposure to this potent stem cell factor. We initiated preliminary safety studies to identify potential risks, and compared the effects of WNT treatment with other commercially available bone growth factors. In sum, we succeeded in moving our early translational candidate from exploratory studies to validation, and are now ready to enter into the IND-enabling phase of therapeutic candidate development.
  • This progress report covers the period between Sep 01 2013 through April 30 2014, and summarizes the work accomplished under ET funding TR101249. Under this award we developed a Wnt protein-based platform for activating a patient’s own stem cells for purposes of tissue regeneration.
  • At the beginning of our grant period we generated research grade human WNT3A protein in quantities sufficient for all our discovery experiments. We then tested the ability of this WNT protein therapeutic to improve the healing response in animal models of stroke, heart attack, skin wounding, and bone fracture. These experimental models recapitulated some of the most prevalent and debilitating human diseases that collectively, affect millions of Californians. At the conclusion of Year 2 an external review panel was assembled and charged with the selection of a single lead indication for further development. The scientific advisory board unanimously selected skeletal repair as the lead indication.
  • In year 3 we accrued addition scientific evidence, using both large and small animal models, demonstrating that a WNT protein therapeutic accelerated bone healing. Also, we developed new methods to streamline the purification of WNT proteins, and improved our method of packaging of the WNT protein into liposomal vesicles (e.g., L-WNT3A) for in vivo use.
  • In year 4 we clarified the mechanism of action of L-WNT3A, by demonstrating that it activates endogenous stem cells and therefore leads to accelerated bone healing. We also continued our development studies, by identifying a therapeutic dose range for L-WNT3A, as well as a route and method of delivery that is both effective and safe. We initiated preliminary safety studies to identify potential risks, and compared the effects of L-WNT3A with other, commercially available bone growth factors.
  • In year 5 we initiated two new preclinical studies aimed at demonstrating the disease-modifying activity of L-WNT3A in spinal fusion and osteonecrosis. These two new indications were chosen by a CIRM review panel because they represent an unmet need in California and the nation. We also initiated development of a scalable manufacturing and formulation process for both the WNT3A protein and L-WNT3A formulation. These two milestones were emphasized by the CIRM review panel to represent major challenges to commercialization of L-WNT3A; consequently, accomplishment of these milestones is a critical yardstick by which progress towards an IND filing can be assessed.

Optimization in the Identification, Selection and Induction of Maturation of Subtypes of Cardiomyocytes derived from Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies I
Grant Number: 
RT1-01143
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$906 629
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • The goal of our project is to develop methods to induce stem cells to differentiate into heart cells. Importantly, there are three major types of heart cells, which correspond to the ventricle (the major chambers that pump blood to the body), the atria (the smaller chambers that pump blood to the ventricles), and the nodes (these are the regions within the heart where the "pacemaker" cells are found, which control the heart rate). If we can produce pure populations of ventricular, atrial, or nodal cells, we can potentially use these cells for "replacement therapy" for patients which have had heart attacks or who have developed arrhythmias. During the first year of the research, we succeeded in producing cells that correspond to the ventricle. Furthermore, we have developed novel culturing techiques that improve the differentiation of the cells into atrial and nodal type myocytes, and the new strategies look very promising for the future research of this project.
  • The goal of our project is to develop methods to induce stem cells to differentiate into heart cells. Importantly, there are three major types of heart cells, which correspond to the ventricle (the major chambers that pump blood to the body), the atria (the smaller chambers that pump blood to the ventricles), and the nodes (these are the regions within the heart where the "pacemaker" cells are found, which control the heart rate). If we can produce pure populations of ventricular, atrial, or nodal cells, we can potentially use these cells for "replacement therapy" for patients which have had heart attacks or who have developed arrhythmias. During the first year of the research, we succeeded in producing cells that correspond to the ventricle. Furthermore, we have developed novel culturing techiques that improve the differentiation of the cells into atrial and nodal type myocytes, and the new strategies look very promising for the future research of this project.

Building Cardiac Tissue from Stem Cells and Natural Matrices

Funding Type: 
New Faculty II
Grant Number: 
RN2-00921
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 706 255
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • The proposed project aims to develop cardiac tissue for enhancing the regeneration of damaged heart. The progress in the first year involved generation of cardiac cells from stem cells, developing fabrication techniques for stem cell differentiation, and exporing cell interactions with various biodegradable materials.
  • Progress towards developing heart tissue for repairing damaged/diseaesed hearts includes stem cell differentiation towards cells that make up heart tissue and blood vessels, optimization of methods for cell expansion and cell-cell integration to generate functional tissues, and preliminary investigations of delivery materials fabrication.
  • We have optimized cardiac cell numbers from embyronic stem cells and generated a cardiac patch for delivery of these cardiac cells into damaged myocardium.
  • The aims for this study are to 1) develop methods for generating highly efficient numbers of cardiovascular cells from stem cells, and then 2) develop methods for packaging the cells into tissue-like implantable materials for repair of dead tissue following a heart attack. The final aim 3) was to examine the repair/restorative ability of the developed product in a damaged animal heart.
  • This year (4th year of the grant) was very productive. We have highly efficient methods for generating both heart (70% purity) and blood vessel cells (90% purity) and have developed a sophisticated design for packaging these into heart tissue-like materials. The animal studies are underway and initial data is promising.
  • The aim of this research proposal was to develop cardiac tissue for heart repair. Aim 1 focused on the generation of cardiac cells from stem cells. Aim 2 looks at biomaterials and patterning for building the complex multicellular integrated tissue. Aim 3 examined the ability of these tissues to repair a damaged heart. During this last year of the grant, we have successfully generate large numbers of cardiac cells from stem cells and have generated "sheets" of these cardiac cells. The animal studies on the cell injections and material injection show some success in the repair of heart tissue, but expect that the fully integrated heart tissue, once implanted, will be superior to cells or material alone.

VEGF signaling in adventitial stem cells in vascular physiology and disease

Funding Type: 
New Faculty II
Grant Number: 
RN2-00909
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 155 931
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the developed world. This disease results from atherosclerosis or fatty deposits in the vessel wall that causes blockage of coronary arteries. Blockage of these arteries cut off supplies of nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle, causing heart attacks, heart failure or sudden death. To restore coronary blood supply, physicians use guide-wires to position an inflatable balloon at the blockage site of the artery, where the balloon is inflated to open up the artery. This procedure is called percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty or PTCA, which is usually accompanied by the placement of a metal tube (or stent) at the diseased site to maintain vessel opening. However, as a response to PTCA, cells from the vessel wall are mobilized to divide and grow into the vessel lumen, causing re-narrowing of the artery. Renarrowing of the vessel lumen is the major hurdle limiting the success of PTCA. Mental stents which contain drug inhibitors of cell growth (drug eluting stents, or DES) reduce re-narrowing; however, considerable concerns have emerged regarding the safety of DES due to an increased risk of sudden stent occlusion by platelet aggregates (or thrombosis). This sudden occlusion is caused by a concomitant drug inhibition of cells that cover the raw surface of metal stents to prevent platelet aggregation. This complication is frequently lethal, resulting in death or heart attack in 85% of cases. The safety concerns over DES have created an urgent need to define the mechanisms underlying the biology of vascular re-narrowing.
  • A population of cells resident in the vessel wall consists of stem cells that divide and grow into the vessel lumen when vessels are injured. The repair process mediated by these cells directly contributes to vessel re-narrowing. Our goal is to understand the biology of these stem cells in the repair of injured arteries- how vessel injury signals these cells to divide and invade the vessel lumen, what molecular effectors control the cellular responses, and how to intercept these signals and effectors to prevent vessel re-narrowing. This will provide a solid scientific basis for new therapeutic targets and strategies for vessel re-narrowing after PTCA.
  • In the past year, we have successfully developed in the laboratory a more efficient method of isolating the vessel wall stem cells (or adventitial stem cells) and growing these cells in test tubes. The ability to isolate and grow these stem cells has allowed us to study the effects of many biologically active molecules on these cells critical for vascular repair and re-narrowing. We are now using this method to study molecular pathways that can modify the biological behavior of the vessel wall stem cells. Furthermore, we have developed a different method of injuring the blood vessels to study how the vessel wall stem cells respond to different types of vessel injury. This method allows us to track the mobilization of vessel wall stem cells more precisely in the vascular repair process. We are using this method to study the activity of vessel wall stem cells following injury.
  • Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the developed world. This disease results from atherosclerosis or fatty deposits in the vessel wall that causes blockage of coronary arteries, causing shortage of blood supply with consequent heart attacks, sudden death, or heart failure. To restore coronary blood supply, physicians use guide-wires to position an inflatable balloon at the blockage site of the artery, where the balloon is inflated to open the artery. This angioplasty procedure is usually accompanied by the placement of a metal stent at the diseased site to maintain vessel opening. Such percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) with angioplasty and stenting is the dominant procedure for opening obstructed coronary arteries. However, PCI activates a population of cells in the vessel wall to grow into the vessel lumen, causing re-narrowing of the artery. This vessel re-narrowing (restenosis) is the major hurdle limiting the success of PCI. Mental stents coated with drug inhibitors of cell growth (drug eluting stents, or DES) reduce re-narrowing; however, considerable concerns have emerged regarding the safety of DES due to an increased risk of sudden stent occlusion by platelet aggregates (or thrombosis) and the need for prolonged anti-platelet therapy, which poses bleeding risks especially to older patients or patients who need surgery. These concerns call for defining mechanisms that control re-narrowing of injured arteries.
  • A population of cells resident in the vessel wall consists of stem cells that are activated when vessels are injured. Activation of these cells directly contributes to vessel re-narrowing. Our goal is to understand how these cells are activated by vessel injury, how injury signals these cells to divide and invade the vessel lumen, what molecular effectors control the cellular responses, and how to intercept these signals and effectors to prevent vessel re-narrowing. In the past year, we successfully developed new methods for isolating and growing these vascular stem cells in test tubes. These new methods allowed us to determine how these stem cells turn into other types of vessel cells after injury and how they contribute to re-narrowing of injured vessels. We are using this method to define molecular pathways that control vessel wall stem cells to respond to vessel injury.
  • Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. This disease results from blockage of coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. To restore blood supply, physicians use angioplasty to open the obstructed artery and apply stenting to maintain the arterial patency. Approximately 1.3 million angioplasty and stenting procedures are performed every year in the US to relieve coronary obstruction. However, these procedures activate a population of vascular cells to grow into the arterial lumen, causing re-narrowing of the artery. This re-narrowing (restenosis) is the major hurdle limiting the success of angioplasty and stenting. Mental stents coated with drug inhibitors of cell growth (drug eluting stents, or DES) reduce re-narrowing; however, considerable concerns have emerged regarding the safety of DES due to an increased risk of sudden stent occlusion by platelet aggregates (or thrombosis) and the need for prolonged anti-platelet therapy, which poses bleeding risks. These concerns call for defining mechanisms that control re-narrowing of injured arteries.
  • A population of stem cells resides in the arterial wall. These cells are activated when arteries are injured by mechanical stress such as angioplasty and stenting. Activation of these cells directly contributes to arterial re-narrowing. Our goal is to understand how these stem cells are activated by vessel injury, how injury signals these cells to divide and invade the vessel lumen, what molecular effectors control the cellular responses, and how to intercept these signals and effectors to prevent vessel re-narrowing. We developed new methods for isolating and growing these vascular stem cells in test tubes. In the past year, we successfully used these methods to determine how arterial injury or mechanical stress signals the stem cells to produce different types of cells which grow into the arterial lumen, causing narrowing of the artery. We are using these methods and also developing new methods to define molecular pathways that control the reaction of stem cells to arterial injury. This will help identify drug targets for therapeutic intervention.
  • Coronary heart disease, the major cause of morbidity and mortality in our society, results from blockage of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. Blockage of the coronary arteries causes heart attack. Angioplasty and stenting are used to open the obstructed coronary artery and maintain the arterial patency. ~1.3 million angioplasty and stenting procedures are performed in the US every year to treat coronary artery disease. However, these procedures activate a population of vascular cells to grow into the arterial lumen, causing re-narrowing of the artery. This re-narrowing (restenosis) is the major hurdle limiting the success of angioplasty and stenting. Mental stents coated with drug inhibitors of cell growth (drug eluting stents, or DES) reduce re-narrowing; however, considerable concerns have emerged regarding the safety of DES due to an increased risk of sudden stent occlusion by platelet aggregates (or thrombosis) and the need for prolonged anti-platelet therapy, which poses bleeding risks. Defining the mechanisms that control re-narrowing of injured arteries is therefore important for treating coronary artery disease.
  • The arterial wall contains a population of stem cells. These stem cells are activated when arteries are injured by mechanical stress such as angioplasty and stenting. Activation of these cells directly contributes to arterial re-narrowing. Our goal is to understand how these stem cells are activated by vessel injury, how injury signals these cells to divide and invade the vessel lumen, what molecular effectors control the cellular responses, and how to intercept these signals and effectors to prevent vessel re-narrowing. We developed new methods for isolating and growing these vascular stem cells in test tubes, and we have successfully used these methods to determine how arterial injury or mechanical stress signals the stem cells to produce different types of cells which grow into the arterial lumen, causing narrowing of the artery. In the past year, we developed new genetic tools to further understand the mechanism of vascular injury and repair. We are using the new genetic tool to define molecular and cellular pathways that control the reaction of stem cells to arterial injury.
  • Blockage of coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle is the major cause of morbidity and mortality in our society. Angioplasty and stenting are used to open the obstructed coronary artery and maintain the arterial patency. In US, ~1.3 million angioplasty and stenting procedures are performed every year to treat coronary artery disease. Although effective in restoring the blood flow, these procedures activate a population of vascular cells resident in the arterial wall to grow into the vesslel lumen, causing re-narrowing (restenosis) of the treated artery months or years later. This arterial re-narrowing is a major hurdle limiting the success of angioplasty and stenting. Mental stents coated with drug inhibitors of cell growth (drug eluting stents, or DES) reduce re-narrowing; however, the safety of DES has raised considerable concerns due to an increased risk of sudden stent occlusion by platelet aggregates (or thrombosis) as well as the need for prolonged anti-platelet therapy, which poses bleeding risks, especially in the elderly population. It is therefore important to define the underlying mechanisms of re-narrowing of injured arteries in order to design new therapies for coronary artery disease.
  • A population of stem cells resides in the arterial wall. These stem cells are activated when arteries are injured by angioplasty and stenting. Once activated, these cells grow and differentiate into cells that invade the vascular luman and contribute to arterial re-narrowing. We developed new genetic tools to further understand the mechanism of vascular injury and repair. We are using the new genetic tool to define molecular and cellular pathways that control the reaction of stem cells to arterial injury. The goal is to understand how these stem cells are activated by vessel injury, how injury signals these cells to divide and invade the vessel lumen, what molecular effectors control the cellular responses, and how to intercept these signals and effectors to prevent vessel re-narrowing.

Induction of cardiogenesis in pluripotent cells via chromatin remodeling factors

Funding Type: 
New Faculty II
Grant Number: 
RN2-00903
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 847 600
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • We hypothesized that human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells, which are derived from skin or other adult cells) can be efficiently reprogrammed to become heart cells using a combination of factors that includes proteins that unwind DNA. To test this hypothesis, we proposed three specific aims. For each we have achieved significant progress. In progress toward our first aim, we have been able to enhance cardiac differentiation of mouse iPS cells by 20%, and have devised strategies to increase this success rate. Our second aim was directed at understanding how important the chromatin remodeling factor, Baf60c, was in the induction of heart cells from pluripotent cells. We have made significant progress in this regard, mostly in developing the complex genetic tools required to investigate this important question. The third aim was to understand how Baf60c and its collaborating factors work to enhance heart cell formation. Again, we have had considerable success in early experiments that indicate that we will be able to address these questions fully in the remaining years of the granting period. Overall, our first year of funding has allowed us to move rapidly forward in understanding how to propel a stem cell toward becoming a heart cell; these results will be important to understand how heart cells are made in the body, and how their genesis can be harnessed using the power of stem cells.
  • We have been studying ways to understand how heart cells form from stem cells, and how we could help make the process more efficient, to generate new heart cells for patients with damaged hearts due to heart attacks. We have focused on the finding that cellular machines that unwind DNA from chromosomes, so-called chromatin remodeling factors, are important for turning on heart genes. To date we have been generating the important biological tools required for these studies. These include stem cells in which some of these chromatin genes have been inactivated, as well as DNA constructions that will be inserted into embryonic stem cells to attempt to induce them to become heart cells. In parallel we have been working towards using these factors to transform other types of cells, such as skin cells, into cardiomyocytes; in collaboration with our colleagues we have made significant progress towards this goal, and are now investigating the importance of the chromatin remodeling complexes in this process. Our progress has been excellent, and we are confident that we are making great strides towards regenerative medicine in the context of heart disease.
  • We have been studying ways to understand how heart cells form from stem cells, and how we could help make the process more efficient, to generate new heart cells for patients with damaged hearts due to heart attacks. We have focused on the finding that cellular machines that unwind DNA from chromosomes, so-called chromatin remodeling factors, are important for turning on heart genes. To date we have been generating the important biological tools required for these studies. These include stem cells in which some of these chromatin genes have been inactivated, as well as DNA constructions that will be inserted into embryonic stem cells to attempt to induce them to become heart cells. In parallel we have been working towards using these factors to transform other types of cells, such as skin cells, into cardiomyocytes; in collaboration with our colleagues we have made significant progress towards this goal, and are now investigating the importance of the chromatin remodeling complexes in this process. Our progress has been excellent, and we are confident that we are making great strides towards regenerative medicine in the context of heart disease.
  • In the last year, we have made significant progress on this project, which aims to understand how heart cells can be produced from pluripotent cells. We have been able to understand the gene program that is controlled by a so-called chromatin remodeling protein, a protein that unwinds DNA to allow genes to be turned on. This protein, called Baf60c, turns on many of the genes that give a heart cell its basic functions, like beating. We have also created stem cell -based tools that will allow us in the final year of this project to identify the partner proteins that allow Baf60c to function, and where in our genome Baf60c turns genes on.
  • During the tenure of this award, we have made some exciting discoveries about how genes are regulated during the process of heart cell formation from embryonic stem cells. In particular, we focused our efforts on a group of proteins that regulate other genes using a process called chromatin remodeling. We discovered that one such chromatin remodeling protein is required for genes that are specific to the heart to be turned on in heart cells. We also discovered new proteins that are also important for the formation of the heart. In studying these chromatin remodeling proteins in an embryonic stem cell system, we identified how these proteins turn on the "right" set of genes in the earliest stages of commitment of stem cells to heart cell progenitors. Finally, we identified the nature of the group of proteins that work together as part of chromatin remodeling "complexes", which for the first time tells us how these proteins assemble together to regulate heart genes. These results have paved the way for studies aimed at creating new heart cells, and have opened up some exciting new possibilities to improve this process.

Prospective isolation of hESC-derived hematopoietic and cardiomyocyte stem cells

Funding Type: 
Comprehensive Grant
Grant Number: 
RC1-00354
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 636 900
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Heart Disease
Immune Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • The objectives of our proposal are the isolations of blood-forming and heart-forming stem cells from human embryonic stem cell (hESCs) cultures, and the generation of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that eliminate residual teratogenic cells from transplantable populations of differentiated hESCs. For isolation of progenitors, we hypothesized that precursors derived from hESCs could be identified and isolated using mAbs that label unique combinations of lineage-specific cell surface molecules. We used hundreds of defined mAbs, generated hundreds of novel anti-hESC mAbs, and used these to isolate and characterize dozens of hESC-derived populations. We discovered four precursor types from early stages of differentiating cells, each expressing genes indicative of commitment to either embryonic or extraembryonic tissues. Together, these progenitors are candidates to give rise to meso-endodermal lineages (heart, blood, pancreas, etc), and yolk sac, umbilical cord and placental tissues, respectively. Importantly, we have found that cells of the meso-endodermal population give rise to beating cardiomyocytes. We are currently enriching cardiomyocyte precursors from this population using cardiac-specific genetic markers, and are assaying the putative progenitors using electrophysiological assays and by transplantation into animal hearts (a test for restoration of heart function). In addition, we established in vitro conditions that effectively promote hESC-differentiation towards the hematopoietic (blood) lineages and isolated populations that resemble hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in both surface phenotype as well as lineage potentials, as determined by assays in vitro. We have generated hESC-lines that express the anti-apoptotic gene BCL2, and have found that these cells produce significantly greater amounts of hematopoietic and cardiac cells, because of their increased survival during culturing and sorting. We are currently isolating hematopoietic precursors from BCL2-hESCs and will test their ability to engraft in immunodeficient mice, to examine the capacity of hESC-derived HSCs to regenerate the blood system. Finally, we have utilized the novel mAbs that we prepared against undifferentiated hESCs, to deplete residual teratogenic cells from differentiated cultures that were transplanted into animal models. We discovered that following depletion teratoma rarely formed, and we expect to determine a final cocktail of mAbs for removal of teratogenic cells from transplantation products this year.
  • The main objective of our proposal is to isolate therapeutic stem cells and progenitors from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that give rise to blood and heart cells. Our approach involves isolation of differentiated precursor subset of cells using monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and cell sorting instruments, and subsequent characterization of their respective hematopoietic and cardiomyogenic potential in culture as well as following engraftment into mouse models of disease. In addition, we aim to develop mAbs that specifically bind to undifferentiated hESCs for removal of residual teratoma-initiating cells from therapeutic cell preparations, to ensure transplantation safety.
  • We have made substantial advancement towards achieving these goals. First, we discovered that the initial differentiation of hESCs occurs through only 4-5 different progenitor types, of which one is destined to give rise to heart lineages. We purified this population using three novel cell surface markers, and found a significant enrichment of cardiomyocyte clones in colony formation assays that we developed. This subset also expressed particularly high levels of cardiac genes and was receptive to further differentiation into beating cardiomyocytes or vascular endothelial cells. When transplanted into immunodeficient mice these progenitors differentiated into ventricular myocytes and vascular endothelial cells. In the coming year we will perform transplantation experiments to evaluate whether they improve the functional outcome of heart infarction in hearts of mice. Second, we have optimized cell culture conditions and cell surface markers to sort hematopoietic progenitors derived from hESCs. We have also begun to transplant these populations into immunodeficient mouse recipients to identify blood-reconstituting hematopoietic populations. Third, we identified 5 commercial and 1 custom mAbs that are specific to human pluripotent cells (hESCs and induced pluripotent cells). We are currently testing the capacity of combinations of 3 pluripotency surface markers to remove all teratoma-initiating cells from transplanted differentiated cell populations. In summary, we expect provide functional validation of the blood and heart precursor populations that we identified from hESCs by the end term of this grant.
  • The main objective of our proposal is to isolate therapeutic stem and progenitor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that can give rise to blood and heart cells. Our approach involves developing differentiation protocols to drive hematopoietic (blood) and cardiac (heart) development of hESCs, then to identify and isolate stem/progenitor cells using monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) specific to surface markers expressed on blood and heart stem/progenitor cells, and finally to characterize their functional properties in vitro and in vivo. In addition, we sought to develop mAbs that specifically bind to undifferentiated hESCs for removal of residual teratoma (tumor)-initiating cells from therapeutic preparations, to ensure transplantation safety.
  • We have made substantial progress toward achieving these goals. First, we discovered that the initial differentiation of hESCs occurs through only 4-5 different progenitor types, of which one is destined to give rise to heart lineages. We purified this population using four novel cell surface markers (ROR2, PDGFRα, KDR, and CD13), and found a significant enrichment of cardiomyocyte clones in colony formation assays that we developed. This subset also expressed particularly high levels of cardiac genes and was receptive to further differentiation into beating cardiomyocytes or vascular endothelial cells. When transplanted into immunodeficient mice these progenitors differentiated into ventricular myocytes and vascular endothelial cells. We have also successfully developed a human fetal heart xenograft model to test hESC-derived cardiomyocyte stem/progenitor cells in human heart tissue for engraftment and function.
  • Second, we have optimized cell culture conditions and cell surface markers to sort hematopoietic progenitors derived from hESCs. In doing so, we have mapped the earliest stages of hematopoietic specification and commitment from a bipotent hematoendothelial precursor. Our culture conditions drive robust hematopoietic differentiation in vitro but these hESC-derived hematopoietic progenitors do not achieve hematopoietic engraftment when transplanted in mouse models. Furthermore, we overexpressed the anti-apoptotic protein BCL2 in hESCs, and discovered a significant improvement in viability upon single cell sorting, embryoid body formation, and in cultures lacking serum replacement. Moving forward, we feel the survival advantages exhibited by this BCL2-expressing hESC line will improve our chances of engrafting hESC-derived hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells.
  • Third, we identified a cocktail of 5 commercial and 1 novel mAbs that enable specific identification of human pluripotent cells (hESCs and induced pluripotent cells). We have found combinations of 3 pluripotency surface markers that can remove all teratoma-initiating cells from differentiated hESC and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) populations prior to transplant. While these combinations can vary depending on the differentiation culture, we have generated a simple, easy-to-follow protocol to remove all teratogenic cells from large-scale differentiation cultures.
  • In summary, we accomplished most of the goals stated in our original proposal. We successfully achieved cardiac engraftment of an hESC-derived cardiomyocyte progenitor using a novel human heart model of engraftment. While we unfortunately did not attain hematopoietic engraftment of hESC-derived cells, we are exploring a strategy to address this. Our research has led to four manuscripts: one on the protective effects of BCL2 expression on hESC viability and pluripotency (published in PNAS, 2011), another describing markers of pluripotency and their use in depleting teratogenic potential in differentiated PSCs (accepted for publication in Nature Biotechnology), and two submitted manuscripts, one describing a novel xenograft assay to test PSC-derived cardiomyocytes for functional engraftment and the other describing the earliest fate decisions downstream of a PSC.

Engineering a Cardiovascular Tissue Graft from Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Comprehensive Grant
Grant Number: 
RC1-00151
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 618 704
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • Specific Aim 1: To electromechanically condition hESC-derived cardiomyocytes.
  • Progress: Over the past year, we have designed and constructed a computer controlled integrated stretch system and electrical pacing system for applying mechanical and electrical stimulation. This system was used in conjunction with a stretchable microelectrode array (sMEA) and shown to successfully support, stretch, and pace primary murine cardiomyocytes (CM). We also have developed a strain array device for cell culture that effectively interfaces the desirable properties of high-throughput microscale fluidic devices with macroscale user-friendly features. One challenge we have encountered with our sMEAs is maintaining electrical continuity of electrodes as cells are stretched. As an alternative to traditional electrical stimulation we have created a system that optically induces electrical activity in hESC-CM. We are now able to optically and non-invasively pace cardiomyocytes differentiated from our modified hESC line.
  • Specific Aim 2: To engineer a hESC-CM based cardiovascular tissue graft.
  • Progress: From our first attempt at engineering a cardiovascular tissue graft as we reported in Year 1, we learned that our grafts would require large populatoins of relatively pure hESC-CMs. As a result, we concentrated our efforts over the past year in developing a more efficient differentiation method for producing larger yields and quantities of hESC-CM. Our method produces hESC-CM in a directed manner under feeder-free and serum-free conditions by controlling multiple cardiomyogenic developmental pathways. Also, in a collaborative effort, we are engineering a novel method for sorting cardiomyocytes. In order to promote improved viability of hESC-CM in our tissue grafts, co-transplantation with hESC-derived endothelial cells (hESC-EC), as opposed to VEGF alone, will likely be needed as shown recently by others. Over the past year, we have shown that we can produce hESC-EC and that their survival in the heart is enhanced by activation of acetylcholine receptors that lead to activation of pro-survival and anti-apoptosis pathways. Finally, in order to control spatial orientation of hESC-CM within our tissue grafts, we have demonstrated on-demand micropatterning of matrix proteins for cell localization and stem cell fate determination. We have illustrated the utility of a cantilever-based nano-contact printing technology for cellular patterning, mESC renewal, and mESC fate specification. We are currently extending our results to undifferentiated hESC and hESC-CM.
  • Specific Aim 3: To assess tissue graft viability and function in a small animal model.
  • Progress: Over the past year, we created hESC-CM based tissue grafts in linear form. In order to quantify the loss of cardiac function between healthy and diseased hearts, we have recently developed a novel in vitro hybrid experimental/computational system to measure active force generation in ventricular slices of rodent hearts. Quantification of the loss of cardiac function will guide us in determining the numbers of hESC-CM needed for producing grafts with varying force generating capacity. Finally, as outlined in our original proposal, we will first implant our tissue grafts in rat aortas as a novel test-bed to assess the graft’s inherent function while minimizing the confounding effects of underlying cardiac contractions. Over the past year we have successfully implanted decellularized aortic patches in rat aortas and are currently working on adding hESC-CM and hESC-EC to the patches to assess their viability and function.
  • In summary, in the second year of our project we have made strong progress on all three of our specific aims. Based on our current results, we anticipate we will continue to make significant progress in engineering a robust and functional cardiovascular tissue graft.
  • Specific Aim 1: To electromechanically condition hESC-derived cardiomyocyte(CM).
  • Progress: Over the past year, we tested, validated, and published an integrated strain and electrical pacing system that we designed and constructed. As mentioned in our previous reports, one challenge we encountered with our electromechanical devices is maintaining electrical continuity of electrodes as cells are stretched. As an alternative to traditional electrical stimulation, with collaborators at Stanford, we have created a system that optically induces electrical activity in hESC-CM by introducing light activated channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), a cationic channel, into undifferentiated hESC. In our initial manuscript we have also demonstrated the effects of light stimulation on a whole heart computational model in which we have virtually injected light-responsive hESC-CM in various areas of the simulated heart.
  • Specific Aim 2: To engineer a hESC-CM based cardiovascular tissue graft.
  • Progress: From our first attempt at engineering a cardiovascular tissue graft as we reported in Years 1, 2, and 3 we learned that our grafts would require large populations of relatively pure hESC-CMs. As a result, we’ve continued our efforts in developing a more efficient differentiation method for producing larger yields and quantities of hESC-CM. Our method produces hESC-CM and iPSC-CM in a directed manner under feeder-free, serum-free, and monolayer conditions by controlling TGF-beta/Activin, BMP, Wnt, and FGF pathways. We have used our differentiation protocols to contribute cardiomyocytes to our collaborators, which has resulted in one published manuscript and two submitted publications. Also, with our collaborator at UC Berkeley, we have engineered a novel method for identifying CMs based on their electrical signals and have reported our technology in one accepted manuscript and one under review.
  • Specific Aim 3: To assess tissue graft viability and function in a small animal model.
  • Progress: Over the past two years, we created hESC-CM based tissue grafts in linear and circular forms and our now creating grafts that can be optically controlled (see Aim 1 above). As described in our last progress report, in order to quantify the loss of cardiac function between healthy and diseased hearts, we have reported a novel in vitro hybrid experimental/computational system to measure active force generation in healthy ventricular slices of rodent hearts. Quantification of the loss of cardiac function will guide us in determining the numbers of hESC-CM needed for producing grafts with varying force generating capacity. We have also modeled eccentric and concentric cardiac growth through sarcomerogenesis in order to give us insight into how we might terminally mature our hESC-CM grafts. Finally, we have differentiated hESC into CM for one of our collaborators at Stanford and have performed detailed calcium imaging to show engraftment of hESC-CM with human heart tissue. This has given us great insight into how 3D tissue grafts might integrate with human heart tissue.
  • In summary, in the fourth year of our project we made good progress on all three of our specific aims. Based on our current results, we anticipate we will continue to make significant progress in engineering a robust and functional cardiovascular tissue graft as we originally proposed and we will continue our efforts. Undoubtedly, with the support of the CIRM grant over the past four years, we have made great strides towards creating a 3D tissue graft and believe we will demonstrate functional integration, not only with rodent hearts, but with human tissue, all within the coming year.

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