Neurological Disorders

Coding Dimension ID: 
303
Coding Dimension path name: 
Neurological Disorders

Stem Cell Mechanisms Governing Discrete Waves of Gliogenesis in the Childhood Brain

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06093
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 264 248
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
White matter is the infrastructure of the brain, providing conduits for communication between neural regions. White matter continues to mature from birth until early adulthood, particularly in regions of brain critical for higher cognitive functions. However, the precise timing of white matter maturation in the various neural circuits is not well described, and the mechanisms controlling white matter developmental/maturation are poorly understood. White matter is conceptually like wires and their insulating sheath is a substance called myelin. It is clear that neural stem and precursor cells contribute significantly to white matter maturation by forming the cells that generate myelin. In the proposed experiments, we will map the precise timing of myelination in the human brain and changes in the populations of neural precursor cells that generate myelin from birth to adulthood and define mechanisms that govern the process of white matter maturation. The resulting findings about how white matter develops may provide insights for white matter regeneration to aid in therapy for diseases such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Diseases of white matter account for significant neurological morbidity in both children and adults in California. Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern white matter development the may unlock clues to the regenerative potential of endogeneous stem and precursor cells in the childhood and adult brain. Although the brain continues robust white matter development throughout childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, relatively little is known about the mechanisms that orchestrate proliferation, differentiation and functional maturation of neural stem and precursor cells to generate myelin-forming oligodendrocytes during postnatal brain development. In the present proposal, we will define how white matter precursor cell populations vary with age throughout the brain and determine if and how neuronal activity instructs neural stem and precursor cell contributions to human white matter myelin maturation. Disruption of white matter myelination is implicated in a range of neurological diseases, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, cognitive dysfunction from chemotherapy exposure, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. The results of these studies have the potential to elucidate clues to white matter regeneration that may benefit hundreds of thousands of Californians.
Progress Report: 
  • Formation of the insulated fiber infrastructure of the human brain (called "myelin") depends upon the function of a precursor cell type called "oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPC)". The first Aim of this study seeks to determine how OPCs differ from each other in different regions of the brain, and over different ages. Understanding this heterogeneity is important as we explore the regenerative capacity of this class of precursor cells. We have, in the past year, isolated OPCs from various regions of the human brain from individuals at various ages and are studying the molecular characteristics of these precursor cells at the single cell level in order to define distinct OPC subpopulations. We have also begun to study the functional capabilities of OPCs isolated from different brain regions. The second Aim of this study seeks to understand how interactions between electrically active neurons and OPCs affect OPC function and myelin formation. We have found that when mouse motor cortex neurons "fire" signals in such a way as to elicit a complex motor behavior, much as would happen when one practices a motor task, OPCs within that circuit respond and myelination increases. This affects the function of that circuit in a lasting way. These results indicate that neurons and OPCs interact in important ways to modulate myelination and supports the hypothesis that OPC function may play a role in learning.

Stem cell models to analyze the role of mutated C9ORF72 in neurodegeneration

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06045
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 393 200
Disease Focus: 
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Neurological Disorders
Dementia
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is an idiopathic adult-onset degenerative disease characterized by progressive weakness from loss of upper and lower motor neurons. Onset is insidious, progression is essentially linear, and death occurs within 3-5 years in 90% of patients. In the US, 5,000 deaths occur per year and in the world, 100,000. In October, 2011, the causative gene defect in a long sought after locus on chromosome 9 for ALS, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and overlap ALS-FTD was identified to be a expansion of a hexanucleotide repeat in the uncharacterized C9ORF72 gene. The goal of the proposed research is to generate human stem cell models from cells derived from ALS patients with the C9ORF72 expanded repeats and relevant control cells using genome-editing technology. We will also generate a stem cell model expressing the repeat independent of the C9ORF72 gene to study if the repeat alone is causing neural defects. Using advanced genome technologies, biochemical and cellular approaches, we will study the molecular pathways affected in motor neurons derived from these stem cell models. Finally, we will use innovative technologies to rescue the abnormal phenotypes that arise from the expanded repeat in human motor neurons. Completion of the proposed research is expected to transform our understanding of the regulatory and pathogenetic mechanisms underlying ALS and FTD, and establish therapeutic options for these debilitating diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Our research provides the foundation for decoding the mechanisms that underlie the single most frequent genetic mutation found to contribute to both ALS and FTD, debilitating neurological diseases that impact many Californians. In California, the expected prevalence of ALS (the number of total existing cases) is 2,200 to 3,000 cases at any one time, and the incidence is 750-1,100 new cases each year. The number of FTD cases is five times as many. Our research has and will continue to serve as a basis for understanding deviations from normal and disease patient neuronal cells, enabling us to make inroards to understanding neurological disease modeling using neurons differentiated from reprogammed patient-specific lines. Such disease modeling will have great potential for California health care patients, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries in terms of improved human models for drug discovery and toxicology testing. Our improved knowledge base will support our efforts as well as other Californian researchers to study stem cell models of neurological disease and design new diagnostics and treatments, thereby maintaining California's position as a leader in clinical research.
Progress Report: 
  • Expanded hexanucleotide repeats in the C9ORF72 gene were identified in Oct 2011 as a cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), thus identifying the single most frequent genetic cause of each and connecting them to repeat expansion disease. We are developing stem cell disease models to enable key hypotheses of pathogenesis and new interventions to be tested. We have successfully engineered stem cell models to analyze the effects of C9ORF72 mutations, and have differentiated these stem cell models into motor neurons which enabled us to conduct transcriptomic and biochemical studies. In addition, we have utilized antisense-oligonucleotides (ASOs) from ISIS Pharmaceuticals to deplete mutant C9ORF72 in motor neurons. We expect our efforts to provide mechanistic insights and a potential therapy in human cells.

Mechanism and Utility of Direct Neuronal Conversion with a MicroRNA-Chromatin Switch

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-05886
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 392 426
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Many human diseases and injuries that affect the brain and nervous system could potentially be treated by either introducing healthy neurons or persuading the cells that normally provide supporting functions to become functioning neurons. A number of barriers must be traversed to bring these goals to practical therapies. Recently our laboratory and others have found ways of converting different human cell types to functioning neurons. Surprisingly, two routes for the production of neurons have been discovered. Our preliminary evidence indicates that these two routes are likely to work together and therefore more effective ways of producing neurons can likely be provided by understanding these two routes, which is one aim of this application. Another barrier to effective treatment of human neurologic diseases has been the inability to develop good models of human neurologic disease due to inability to sample tissues from patients with these diseases. Hence we will understand ways of making neurons from blood cells and other cells, which can be easily obtained from patients with little or no risk. Our third goal will be to understand how different types of neurons can be produced from patient cells. We would also like to understand the barriers and check points that keep one type of cell from becoming another another type of cell. Understanding these mysterious processes could help provide new sources of human cells for replacement therapies and disease models.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The state of California and its citizens are likely to benefit from the work described in this proposal by the development of more accurate models for the testing of drugs and new means of treatment of human neurologic diseases. Presently these diseases are among the most common afflicting Californians, as well as others and will become more common in an aging population. Common and devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, Parkinson's Disease, and others lack facile cell culture models that allow one to probe the basis of the disease and to test therapies safely and without risk to the patient. Our work is already providing these models, but we hope to make even better ones by understanding the fundamental processes that allow one cell type (such as a skin cell or blood cell) to be converted to human neurons, where the disease process can be investigated. In the past the inability to make neurons from patients with specific diseases has been a major roadblock to treatment. In the future the studies described here might be able to provide healthy neurons to replace ones loss through disease or injury.
Progress Report: 
  • During the past year, our laboratory has investigated the way that human skin cells can be changed to neurons. To do this, we have used a natural switch that occurs as embryonic cells decide to become neurons. We have found that this process proceeds in a highly ordered series of stages that involve first a resetting of fundamental cell biologic processes characteristic of neurons. This is followed by activation of genes encoding proteins that allow different types of neurons to interact and develop communication between one another. This finding surprised us since we expected to find changes in transcription factors, which instruct the formation of neurons. Instead, we find that the natural switching mechanism in neurons first regulates cell-to-cell communication.

Role of the NMD RNA Decay Pathway in Maintaining the Stem-Like State

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06345
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 360 450
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
A subset of intellectual disability cases in humans are caused by mutations in an X-linked gene essential for a quality control mechanism called nonsense-mediated RNA decay (NMD). Patients with mutations in this gene—UPF3B—commonly have not only ID, but also schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Thus, the study of UPF3B and NMD may provide insight into a wide spectrum of cognitive and psychological disorders. To examine how mutations in UPF3B can cause mental defects, we will generate and characterize induced-pluripotent stem cells from intellectual disability patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene. In addition to having a role in neural development, our recent evidence suggests that NMD is important for maintaining the identity of ES cells and progenitor cells. How does NMD do this? While NMD is a quality control mechanism, it is also a well characterized biochemical pathway that serves to rapidly degrade specific subsets of normal messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNAs), the transiently produced copies of our genetic material: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). We have obtained evidence that NMD preferentially degrades mRNAs that interfere with the stem cell program (i.e., NMD promotes the decay mRNAs encoding proteins that promote differentiation and inhibit cell proliferation). In this proposal, we will identify the target mRNAs of NMD in stem and progenitor cells and directly address the role of NMD in maintaining the stem-like state.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
iPS cells provide a means to elucidate the mechanisms underlying diseases that afflict a growing number of Californians. Our proposed project concerns making and testing iPS cells from patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene, all of whom have intellectual disabilities. In addition, many of these patients have autism, attention-deficit disorders, and schizophrenia. By using iPS cells to identify the cellular and molecular defects in these patients, we have the potential to ultimately ameliorate the symptoms of many of these patients. This is important, as over 1.6 million people in California have serious mental illness. Moreover, a large proportion of patients with UPF3B mutations have autism, a disorder that has undergone an alarming 12-fold increase in California between 1987 and 2007. The public mental health facilities in California are inadequate to meet the needs of people with mental health disorders. Furthermore, what is provided is expensive: $4.4 billion was spent on public mental health agency services in California in 2006. Mental health problems also exert a heavy burden on California’s criminal justice system. In 2006, over 11,000 children and 40,000 adults with mental health disorders were incarcerated in California’s juvenile justice system. Our research is also directed towards understanding fundamental mechanisms by which all stem cells are maintained, which has the potential to also impact non-psychiatric disorders suffered by Californians.
Progress Report: 
  • A key quality of stem cells is their ability to switch from a proliferative cell state in which they reproduce themselves to a differentiated cell state that ultimately allows them to carry out the functions of a fully mature cell. Most research on the nature of this switch has focused on the role of proteins that determine whether the genetic material—DNA—generates a copy of it itself in the form of messenger RNA, a process called transcription. In stem cells, such proteins—which are called transcription factors—activate the production of messenger RNAs encoding proteins that promote the proliferative and undifferentiated cell state. They also increase the production of messenger mRNAs that encode inhibitors of differentiation and cell proliferation. The level and profile of such transcription factors are altered in response to signals that trigger stem cells to differentiate. For example, transcription factors that promote the undifferentiated cell state are decreased in level and transcription factors that drive differentiation down a particular lineage are increased in level. While this transcription factor-centric view of stem cells explains some aspects of stem cell biology, it is, in of itself, insufficient to explain many of their behaviors, including both their ability to maintain the stem-like state and to differentiate. We hypothesize that a molecular pathway that complements transcription-base mechanisms in controlling stem cell maintenance vs. differentiation decisions is an RNA decay pathway called nonsense-mediated RNA decay (NMD). Messenger RNA decay is as important as transcription in determining the level of messenger RNA. Signals that trigger increased decay of a given messenger RNA leads to decreased levels of its encoded protein, while signals that trigger the opposite response increase the level of the encoded protein. Our project revolves around two main ideas. First, that NMD promotes the stem-like state by preferentially degrading messenger RNAs that encode differentiation-promoting proteins and proliferation inhibitor proteins. Second, that NMD must be downregulated in magnitude to allow stem cells to differentiate. During the progress period, we obtained substantial evidence for both of these hypotheses. With regard to the first hypothesis, we have used genome-wide approaches to identify hundreds of messenger RNAs that are regulated by NMD in both in vivo (in mice) and in vitro (in cell lines). To determine which of these messenger mRNAs are directly degraded by NMD, we have used a variety of approaches. This work has revealed that NMD preferentially degrades messenger RNAs encoding neural differentiation inhibitors and proliferation inhibitors in neural stem cells. In contrast, very few messenger RNAs encoding pro-stem cell proteins or pro-proliferation proteins are degraded by NMD. Together this provides support for our hypothesis that NMD promotes the stem-like state by shifting the proportion of messenger RNAs in a cell towards promoting an undifferentiated, proliferative cell state. With regard to the second hypothesis, we have found that many proteins that are directly involved in the NMD pathway are downregulated upon differentiation of stem and progenitor cells. Not only are NMD proteins reduced in level, but we find that the magnitude of NMD itself is reduced. We have used a variety of molecular techniques to determine whether this NMD downregulatory response has a role in neural differentiation and found that NMD downreglation is both necessary and sufficient for this event. Such experiments have also revealed particular messenger mRNAs degraded by NMD that are crucial for the NMD downregulatory response to promote neural differentiation. Our research has implications for intellectual disability cases in humans caused by mutations in an X-linked gene essential for NMD. Patients with mutations in this gene—UPF3B—not only have intellectual disability, but also schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Thus, the study of NMD may provide insight into a wide spectrum of cognitive and psychological disorders. We are currently in the process of generating induced-pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from intellectual disability patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene towards this goal.

Common molecular mechanisms in neurodegenerative diseases using patient based iPSC neurons

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06079
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 506 420
Disease Focus: 
Huntington's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Parkinson's Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
A major medical problem in CA is the growing population of individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s (PD) and Huntington’s (HD) disease. These diseases affect millions of people, sometimes during the prime of their lives, and lead to total incapacitation and ultimately death. No treatment blocks the progression of neurodegeneration. We propose to conduct fundamental studies to understand the basic common disease mechanisms of neurodegenerative disorders to begin to develop effective treatments for these diseases. Our work will target human stem cells made from cells from patients with HD and PD that are developed into the very cells that degenerate in these diseases, striatal neurons and dopamine neurons, respectively. We will use a highly integrated approach with innovative molecular analysis of gene networks that change the states of proteins in these diseases and state-of-the-art imaging technology to visualize living neurons in a culture dish to assess cause and effect relationships between biochemical changes in the cells and their gradual death. Importantly, we will test whether drugs effective in animal model systems are also effective in blocking the disease mechanisms in the human HD and PD neurons. These human preclinical studies could rapidly lead to clinical testing, since some of the drugs have already been examined extensively in humans in the past for treating other disorders and are safe.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s (PD) and Huntington’s disease (HD), are devastating to patients and families and place a major financial burden on California. No treatments effectively block progression of any neurodegenerative disease. A forward-thinking team effort will allow highly experienced investigators in neurodegenerative disease and stem cell research to investigate common basic mechanisms that cause these diseases. Most important is the translational impact of our studies. We will use neurons and astrocytes derived from patient induced pluripotent stem cells to identify novel targets and discover disease-modifying drugs to block the degenerative process. These can be quickly transitioned to testing in preclinical and clinical trials to treat HD and other neurodegenerative diseases. We are building on an existing strong team of California-based investigators to complete the studies. Future benefits to California citizens include: 1) discovery and development of new HD treatments with application to other diseases, such as PD, that affect thousands of Californians, 2) transfer of new technologies and intellectual property to the public realm with resulting IP revenues to the state with possible creation of new biotechnology spin-off companies, and 3) reductions in extensive care-giving and medical costs. We anticipate the return to the State in terms of revenue, health benefits for its Citizens and job creation will be significant.
Progress Report: 
  • The goal of our study is to identify common mechanisms that cause the degeneration of neurons and lead to most neurodegenerative disorders. Our work focuses on the protein homeostasis pathways that are disrupted in many forms of neurodegeneration, including Huntington’s disease (HD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). In this first reporting period we have made great progress in developing novel methods to probe the autophagy pathway in single cells. This pathway is involved in the turnover of misfolded proteins and dysfunction organelles. Using our novel autophagy assays, we have preliminary data that indicate that the autophagy pathway in neurons from HD patients is modulated compared to healthy controls. We have also begun validating small molecules that activate the autophagy pathway and we are now moving these inducers into human neurons from HD patients to see if they reduce toxicity or other disease related phenotypes. Using pathway analysis we have also identified specific genes within the proteostasis network that are modulated in HD. We are now testing whether modulating these genes in human neurons from HD patients can lead to a reduction in neurodegeneration. In the final part of this study we are investigating whether neurodegenerative diseases, such as HD and PD, share changes in similar genes or pathways, specifically those involved in protein homeostasis. We have now established a human neuron model for PD and have used it to identify potential targets that modulate the disease phenotype via changes in proteostasis. Using the assays, autophagy drugs and pathway analysis described above, we hope to identify overlapping targets that could potentially rescue disease associated phenotypes in both HD and PD.

New Drug Discovery for SMA using Patient-derived Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01844
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$5 665 887
Disease Focus: 
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infant death in the U.S. This devastating disease affects 1 child in every 6,000-10,000 live births, with a North American prevalence of approximately 14,000 individuals. The disease is characterized by the death of spinal cord cells called motor neurons that connect the brain to muscle. Death of these cells causes muscle weakness and atrophy, which progresses to paralysis, respiratory failure and frequently death. The three different types of SMA differ in severity and prognosis, with Type I being the most severe. SMA is caused by a genetic defect that leads to reduced levels of a single protein called SMN. There are currently no approved therapies for the disease. The existing treatments for SMA consist of supportive care for the respiratory and nutritional deficits, for example ventilation and feeding tubes. Previous attempts to develop drugs using conventional technologies, such as cultured cancer cells or cells derived from animals have been unsuccessful. These failures are likely due the fact that previous attempts used cell types that don’t reflect the disease or aren’t affected by low levels of the SMN protein. Our approach uses patient-derived motor neurons, the specific cell type that dies. We will conduct drug discovery experiments using these motor neurons to find potential therapeutics that increase the levels of the SMN protein in these diseased cells. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology allows us to take skin cells from patients with SMA, grow them in a dish, and turn them into motor neurons. We are conducting high-throughput screens of potential drugs with these cells to identify drug candidates that increase SMN protein levels in motor neurons derived from SMA patients. An added advantage to our approach is that we can test our drug candidates in motor neurons from many different patients, with different disease subtypes and from different ethnic backgrounds. We have generated iPSCs from many patients with SMA and we will test compounds for effectiveness against this cohort. These studies will give us an indication of the effectiveness of our compounds across patients before moving into costly and lengthy clinical trials. If our drug candidate is successful, it could be the first effective therapeutic available for SMA. It will increase the amount of SMN protein and prevent motor neuron death. Halting the death of spinal cord motor neurons prevents the progressive weakness and muscle atrophy. We anticipate that this would prevent disability in Type III patients. For Type I and II patients, we believe such a therapy would mitigate respiratory and feeding challenges and allow lifespan increase. The sponsoring institution has integrated iPSC-based drug discovery capabilities, ranging from stem cell line production, high throughput drug screening and medicinal chemistry. Accordingly, this institution is uniquely positioned to achieve the aims of this grant.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the second-most common autosomal-recessive disorder and leading genetic cause of death of infants in the U.S. We estimate that there are up to 1,500 SMA patients currently living in California, with 100 new cases diagnosed in California every year. The CIRM Early Translational II Awards is intended to fund studies that will propel drug discovery forward for many devastating diseases. In keeping with this mission, we propose to leverage iPSC technology to generate disease-relevant cell types from patients themselves for a high throughput drug screen. A successful therapy for SMA would lead to significant cost savings to California’s health care system, and would provide relief to families of patients with this devastating disorder. Given that there are not many successful drugs in the making for neurological diseases such as ALS, SMA, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, our project should significantly impact drug discovery in this area by introducing iPSC technologies as a valid drug discovery and development platform. The application of iPSC-based disease modeling and drug discovery to SMA is highly innovative and represents the opportunity to establish worldwide leadership for California in this emerging field. Furthermore, the sponsoring institution will fund over 70% of the direct costs during the timeframe of this award. Accordingly, the 3:1 leverage provides great opportunity to magnify the effect of a CIRM award. Our research program will also create new, high-paying jobs in California, and will stimulate California’s economy by creating new research and clinical tools. These activities will continue to strengthen California’s leadership position at the forefront of the stem cell and regenerative medical revolution of the 21st century.
Progress Report: 
  • Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infant death in the U.S. This devastating disease affects 1 child in every 6,000-10,000 live births, with a North American prevalence of approximately 14,000 individuals. The disease is characterized by the death of spinal cord cells called motor neurons that connect the brain to muscle. Death of these cells causes muscle weakness and atrophy, which progresses to paralysis, respiratory failure and frequently death. The three different types of SMA differ in severity and prognosis, with Type I being the most severe. SMA is caused by a genetic defect that leads to reduced levels of a single protein called SMN. There are currently no approved therapies for the disease.
  • Existing treatments for SMA consist of supportive care for the respiratory and nutritional deficits, for example ventilation and feeding tubes. Previous attempts to develop drugs using conventional technologies, such as cultured cancer cells or cells derived from animals have been unsuccessful. These failures are likely due to the fact that previous attempts used cell types that do not reflect the disease or are not affected by low levels of the SMN protein. Our approach uses patient-derived motor neurons, the specific cell type that dies in SMA.
  • An added advantage to our approach is that we can test our drug candidates in motor neurons from many different patients and different disease subtypes. We have generated iPSCs from many patients with SMA and we will test compounds for effectiveness against this cohort. These studies will give us an indication of the effectiveness of our compounds across patients before moving into costly and lengthy clinical trials. It will increase the amount of SMN protein and prevent motor neuron death. Halting the death of spinal cord motor neurons prevents the progressive weakness and muscle atrophy. We anticipate that this would prevent disability in Type III patients. For Type I and II patients, we believe such a therapy would mitigate respiratory and feeding challenges and allow an increase in lifespan.
  • In the past year, we conducted drug discovery experiments using these motor neurons to find potential therapeutics that increase the levels of the SMN protein in these diseased cells. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology allows us to take skin cells from patients with SMA, grow them in a dish, and turn them into SMA motor neurons. We conducted high-throughput screens of potential drugs with these cells to identify drug candidates that increase SMN protein levels in motor neurons derived from SMA patients. Despite the high quality of these screens, no suitable drug candidate was identified. We have modified our strategy and developed a method to identify, in parallel, all targets in the “druggable” genome that regulate SMN protein levels. An exhaustive screen currently is being performed to identify such a target and will be completed by end April 2012. Once a target is identified, it will be developed into a lead and validated in animals.

A hESc-based Development Candidate for Huntington's Disease

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01841
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 799 817
Disease Focus: 
Huntington's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Huntington’s disease (HD) is a devastating degenerative brain disease with a 1 in 10,000 prevalence that inevitably leads to death. These numbers do not fully reflect the large societal and familial cost of HD, which requires extensive caregiving. HD has no effective treatment or cure and symptoms unstoppably progress for 15-20 years, with onset typically striking in midlife. Because HD is genetically dominant, the disease has a 50% chance of being inherited by the children of patients. Symptoms of the disease include uncontrolled movements, difficulties in carrying out daily tasks or continuing employment, and severe psychiatric manifestations including depression. Current treatments only address some symptoms and do not change the course of the disease, therefore a completely unmet medical need exists. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer a possible long-term treatment approach that could relieve the tremendous suffering experienced by patients and their families. HD is the 3rd most prevalent neurodegenerative disease, but because it is entirely genetic and the mutation known, a diagnosis can be made with certainty and clinical applications of hESCs may provide insights into treating brain diseases that are not caused by a single, known mutation. Trials in mice where protective factors were directly delivered to the brains of HD mice have been effective, suggesting that delivery of these factors by hESCs may help patients. Transplantation of fetal brain tissue in HD patients suggests that replacing neurons that are lost may also be effective. The ability to differentiate hESCs into neuronal populations offers a powerful and sustainable alternative for cell replacement. Further, hESCs offer an opportunity to create cell models in which to identify earlier markers of disease onset and progression and for drug development. We have assembled a multidisciplinary team of investigators and consultants who will integrate basic and translational research with the goal of generating a lead developmental candidate having disease modifying activity with sufficient promise to initiate IND-enabling activities for HD clinical trials. The collaborative research team is comprised of investigators from multiple California institutions and has been assembled to maximize leverage of existing resources and expertise within the HD and stem cell fields.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The disability and loss of earning power and personal freedom resulting from Huntington's disease (HD) is devastating and creates a financial burden for California. Individuals are struck in the prime of life, at a point when they are their most productive and have their highest earning potential. As the disease progresses, individuals require institutional care at great financial cost. Therapies using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) have the potential to change the lives of hundreds of individuals and their families, which brings the human cost into the thousands. For the potential of hESCs in HD to be realized, a very forward-thinking team effort will allow highly experienced investigators in HD, stem cell research and clinical trials to come together and identify a lead development candidate for treatment of HD. This early translation grant will allow for a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of hESC-derived cell lines to identify a candidate and develop a candidate line into a viable treatment option. HD is the 3rd most prevalent neurodegenerative disease, but because it is entirely genetic and the mutation known, a diagnosis can be made with certainty and clinical applications of hESCs may provide insights into treating brain diseases that are not caused by a single, known mutation. We have assembled a strong team of California-based investigators to carry out the proposed studies. Anticipated benefits to the citizens of California include: 1) development of new human stem cell-based treatments for HD with application to other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases that affect thousands of individuals in California; 2) improved methods for following the course of the disease in order to treat HD as early as possible before symptoms are manifest; 3) transfer of new technologies and intellectual property to the public realm with resulting IP revenues coming into the state with possible creation of new biotechnology spin-off companies; and 4) reductions in extensive care-giving and medical costs. It is anticipated that the return to the State in terms of revenue, health benefits for its Citizens and job creation will be significant.
Progress Report: 
  • Huntington’s disease (HD) is a devastating degenerative brain disease with a 1 in 10,000 prevalence that inevitably leads to death. Because HD is genetically dominant, the disease has a 50% chance of being inherited by the children of patients. Symptoms of the disease include uncontrolled movements, difficulties in carrying out daily tasks or continuing employment, and severe psychiatric manifestations including depression. Current treatments only address some symptoms and do not change the course of the disease, therefore a completely unmet medical need exists. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer a possible long-term treatment approach that could relieve the tremendous suffering experienced by patients and their families. Because HD is entirely genetic and the mutation known, a diagnosis can be made with certainty and clinical applications of hESCs may provide insights into treating brain diseases that are not caused by a single, known mutation. The ability to differentiate hESCs into neuronal populations offers a powerful and sustainable treatment opportunity. We have established the multidisciplinary team of investigators and consultants to integrate basic and translational research with the goal of generating a lead developmental candidate having disease modifying activity with sufficient promise to initiate IND-enabling activities for HD clinical trials.
  • In preliminary experiments, the transplantation of mouse neural stem cells, which survived in the brain for the four week period of the trial, provided protective effects in delaying disease progression in an HD mouse model and increased production of protective molecules in the brains of these mice. In the first year, the team has developed and established methods to differentiate hESCs into neural, neuronal and astrocyte precursors to be used for transplantation and has determined the correct cells to use that can be developed for future clinical development of these cells. In initial studies during this year, transplantation of neural stem cells (NSCs) provided both neurological and behavioral benefit to a HD mouse model. In addition, neuroprotective molecules were increased. Three immunosuppression regimens were tested to optimize methods for next stage preclinical trials. Finally, breeding of the three different HD mouse models has been initiated. Taken as a whole, progress supports the feasibility of the CIRM-funded studies to transplant differentiated hESCs into HD mice for preclinical development with the ultimate goal of initiating IND-enabling activities for HD clinical trials.
  • Huntington’s disease (HD) is a devastating degenerative brain disease with a 1 in 10,000 prevalence that inevitably leads to death. Because HD is genetically dominant, the disease has a 50% chance of being inherited by the children of patients. Symptoms of the disease include uncontrolled movements, difficulties in carrying out daily tasks or continuing employment, and severe psychiatric manifestations including depression. Current treatments only address some symptoms and do not change the course of the disease, therefore a completely unmet medical need exists. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer a possible long-term treatment approach that could relieve the tremendous suffering experienced by patients and their families. Because HD is entirely genetic and the mutation known, a diagnosis can be made with certainty and clinical applications of hESCs may provide insights into treating brain diseases that are not caused by a single, known mutation. The ability to differentiate hESCs into neuronal populations offers a powerful and sustainable treatment opportunity. We have established the multidisciplinary team of investigators and consultants to integrate basic and translational research with the goal of generating a lead developmental candidate having disease modifying activity with sufficient promise to initiate IND-enabling activities for HD clinical trials.
  • We previously performed transplantation of human neural stem cells into an HD mouse model and found that a subset of cells survived in the brain for the four week period of the trial, providing protective effects in delaying disease progression. In the past year, we have increased production and characterization of human neural stem cells (hNSCs) into neuronal (hNPC) and astrocyte (hAPC) precursors to be used for transplantation and optimized methods for shipping and implantation. Immunosuppression regimens were improved to optimize cell survival of implanted cells in HD mice. Transplantation of both human NSCs and NPCs are neuroprotective to HD mice and transplantation of hAPCs is in progress. Once completed, the cell giving the greatest protective benefit will be transplanted into mice that display slower progression over a longer time frame to validate and optimize approach for subsequent human application. All three HD mouse models have been bred and are ready for stem cell transplants. Taken as a whole, progress supports the feasibility of the CIRM-funded studies to transplant differentiated hESC-derived cell types into HD mice for preclinical development with the ultimate goal of identifying a lead candidate cell type and initiating IND-enabling activities for HD clinical trials.

Developing a therapeutic candidate for Canavan disease using induced pluripotent stem cell

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01832
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 835 983
Disease Focus: 
Genetic Disorder
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Collaborative Funder: 
Germany
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Canavan disease is a devastating disease of infants which affects their neural development and leads to mental retardation and early death. It occurs in 1 in 6,400 persons in the U.S. and there is no treatment so far. We propose to generate genetically-repaired and patient-specific stem cells (called iPSCs) from patients’ skin cells, and then coax these stem cells into specific types of corrective neural precursors using methods established in our laboratories in order to develop a therapeutic candidate for this disease. By use of a mouse model of Canavan disease, we will determine the ability of these genetically corrected cells to successfully treat the disease. These results will form the basis for an eventual clinical trial in humans, and if successful, would be the first treatment for this terrible disease. There are many families affected by this disease, and other diseases similar to it. Results from this work could have applications to this and other similar genetic diseases. Through the proposed research, maybe no parents will have to watch their child suffer and die as a result of these dreadful diseases in one day. What a wonderful day that would be!
Statement of Benefit to California: 
It is estimated that California has ~12% of all cases of Canavan disease in the U.S. Besides the tremendous emotional and physical pain that this disease inflicts on families, it produces in California a medical and fiscal burden that is larger than any other states. Thus, there is a real need to develop a strategy of treatment for this disease. Stem cells provide great hope for the treatment of a variety of human diseases that affect the citizens of California. Combination of gene therapy and iPSC technology will enable the development of therapeutic candidates of human genetic diseases via the creation of genetically-corrected patient-specific iPSCs. Our proposal aims to establish a therapeutic development candidate for Canavan disease, a devastating neurodegenerative disease that leads to mental retardation and early death. The generation of genetically-repaired and patient-specific iPSC lines will represent great potential not only for California health care patients but also for pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries in California. Moreover, California is a strong leader in pre-clinical and clinical research developments. To maintain this position, we need to create patient-specific stem cells as autologous therapeutic candidates, in order to overcome the challenges of immune rejection faced by today’s cell therapy field. This proposal addresses the very issue by generating “disease-corrected” and patient-specific iPSCs as a therapeutic candidate with the potential to create safer and more effective cell replacement therapies.
Progress Report: 
  • Canavan disease is a devastating disease of infants which affects their neural development and leads to mental retardation and early death. It occurs in 1 in 6,400 persons in the U.S. and there is no treatment so far. We propose to generate genetically-repaired and patient-specific stem cells (called iPSCs) from patients’ skin cells, and then coax these stem cells into specific types of corrective neural precursors using methods established in our laboratories in order to develop a therapeutic candidate for this disease.
  • For the reporting period, we have obtained primary dermal fibroblasts from clinically affected Canavan disease patients and have derived Canavan disease patient iPSCs. We have demonstrated that these iPSCs exhibited typical human embryonic stem cell (ESC) like morphology, expressed human ESC cell surface markers and hold pluripotency potential. We are also optimizing methods to coax these cells into specific types of neural precursors. Either the patient iPSCs or their neural precursor derivatives will be genetically corrected in the following years to develop a therapeutic tool for Canavan disease patients.
  • There are many families affected by this disease, and other diseases similar to it. Results from this work could have applications to this and other similar genetic diseases. Through the proposed research, maybe no parents will have to watch their child suffer and die as a result of these dreadful diseases in one day.
  • Canavan disease is a devastating disease of infants which affects their neural development and leads to mental retardation and early death. It occurs in 1 in 6,400 persons in the U.S. and there is no treatment so far. We propose to generate genetically-repaired and patient-specific stem cells (called iPSCs) from patients’ skin cells, and then coax these stem cells into specific types of corrective neural precursors using methods established in our laboratories in order to develop a therapeutic candidate for this disease.
  • For the reporting period, we have demonstrated that the Canavan disease patient iPSCs hold pluripotency potential. We also genetically corrected the patient iPSCs and demonstrated that these genetically-corrected cells maintained human embryonic stem cell-like features. We coaxed these cells into specific types of neural precursors and showed that the genetically-corrected patient cells restored their cellular function. These genetically corrected cells will be tested for their therapeutic effect in the next year, in order to develop a therapeutic tool for Canavan disease patients.
  • There are many families affected by this disease, and other diseases similar to it. Results from this work could have applications to this and other similar genetic diseases. Through the proposed research, maybe no parents will have to watch their child suffer and die as a result of these dreadful diseases in one day.

Developing a drug-screening system for Autism Spectrum Disorders using human neurons

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01814
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 491 471
Disease Focus: 
Autism
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are complex neurodevelopmental diseases that affect 1 in 150 children in the United States. Such diseases are mainly characterized by deficits in verbal communication, impaired social interaction, and limited and repetitive interests and behavior. Because autism is a complex spectrum of disorders, a different combination of genetic mutations is likely to play a role in each individual. One of the major impediments to ASD research is the lack of relevant human disease models. ASD animal models are limited and cannot reproduce the important language and social behavior impairment of ASD patients. Moreover, mouse models do not represent the vast human genetic variation. Reprogramming of somatic cells to a pluripotent state (induced pluripotent stem cells, iPSCs) has been accomplished using human cells. Isogenic pluripotent cells are attractive from the prospective to understanding complex diseases, such as ASD. Our preliminary data provide evidence for an unexplored developmental window in ASD wherein potential therapies could be successfully employed. The model recapitulates early stages of ASD and represents a promising cellular tool for drug screening, diagnosis and personalized treatment. By testing whether drugs have differential effects in iPSC-derived neurons from different ASD backgrounds, we can begin to unravel how genetic variation in ASD dictates responses to different drugs or modulation of different pathways. If we succeed, we may find new molecular mechanisms in ASD and new compounds that may interfere and rescue these pathways. The impact of this approach is significant, since it will help better design and anticipate results for translational medicine. Moreover, the collection and molecular/cellular characterization of these iPSCs will be an extremely valuable tool to understand the fundamental mechanism behind ASD. The current proposal uses human somatic cells converted into iPSC-derived neurons. The proposed experiments bring our analyses to real human cell models for the first time. We anticipate gaining insights into the causal molecular mechanisms of ASD and to discover potential biomarkers and specific therapeutic targets for ASD.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Autism spectrum disorders, including Rett syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Timothy syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Tuberous sclerosis, Asperger syndrome or childhood disintegrative disorder, affect many Californian children. In the absence of a functionally effective cure or early diagnostic tool, the cost of caring for patients with such pediatric diseases is high, in addition to a major personal and family impact since childhood. The strikingly high prevalence of ASD, dramatically increasing over the past years, has led to the emotional view that ASD can be traced to a single source, such as vaccine, preservatives or other environmental factors. Such perspective has a negative impact on science and society in general. Our major goal is to develop a drug-screening platform to rescue deficiencies showed from neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells generated from patients with ASD. If successful, our model will bring novel insights on the dentification of potential diagnostics for early detection of ASD risk, or ability to predict severity of particular symptoms. In addition, the development of this type of pharmacological therapeutic approach in California will serve as an important proof of principle and stimulate the formation of businesses that seek to develop these types of therapies (providing banks of inducible pluripotent stem cells) in California with consequent economic benefit.
Progress Report: 
  • During the first year of the project, we focused on creating a cell bank of reprogrammed fibroblasts derived from several autistic patients. These pluripotent stem cells were then induced to differentiate into neurons and gene expression analyses will be done at different time points along the process. We also used some of the syndromic and non-syndromic patients for neuronal phenotypic assays and found that a subset of idiopathic autism cases displayed a molecular overlap with Rett syndrome. Our plan is to use these data to test the ability of candidate drugs on reverting some of the neuronal defects observed in patient neurons.
  • The goal of this CIRM translational award is to generate a hiPSC-based drug-screening platform to identify potential therapies or biomarkers for autism spectrum disorders. In this second year we have made significant progress toward this goal by working on validating several neuronal phenotypes derived from iPSCs from idiopathic and syndromic autistic patients. We also made significant progress in order to optimize a synaptic readout for the screening platform. This step was important to speed up drug discovery. Using Rett syndrome iPSC-derived neurons as a prototype, we showed that we could rescue defect in synaptogenesis using a collection of FDA-approved drugs. Finally, we have initiated our analyses on global gene expression, from several neurons and progenitor cells derived from controls and autistic patients. We expect to find pathways that are altered in subgroups of patients, defined by specific clinical phenotypes.
  • The goal of this CIRM translational award is to generate a hiPSC-based drug-screening platform to identify potential therapies or biomarkers for ASDs. We have made significant progress toward this goal by working on validating several neuronal phenotypes derived from iPSC from Rett syndrome (RTT) and idiopathic autistic patients. We also made significant progress to optimize the readout for our screening platform. This was important to speed up drug discovery. Using RTT iPSC as a prototype, we showed that we could rescue defect in synaptogenesis using a collection of FDA-approved drugs. Finally, we initiate our analyses on gene expression, collected from several neurons and progenitor cells derived from controls and autistic patients. We expect to find pathways that are altered in subgroups of patients, defined by specific clinical phenotypes. Here, we describe the results of our drug screening, using FDA-approved drugs in a repurposing strategy. We also show for the first time that iPSC-derived human neurons are able to generate synchronized neuronal networks. RTT neurons behave differently from controls. Our focus now is on the completion of our gene expression analyses and to validate positive drugs using a battery of secondary cellular assays.

Repair of Conus Medullaris/Cauda Equina Injury using Human ES Cell-Derived Motor Neurons

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01785
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 614 441
Disease Focus: 
Spinal Cord Injury
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Injuries to the spinal cord commonly result from motor vehicle accidents, traumatic falls, diving, surfing, skiing, and snowboarding accidents, other forms of sports injuries, as well as from gunshot injuries in victims of violent crimes. Injuries to the anatomically lowest part of the spinal cord, the lumbosacral portion and its associated nerve roots commonly cause paralysis, loss of sensation, severe pain, as well as loss of bladder, bowel, and sexual function. Lumbosacral injuries represent approximately one-fifth of all traumatic lesions to the human spinal cord. As a result of the direct injury to the lumbosacral portion of the spinal cord, there is degeneration and death of spinal cord nerve cells, which control muscles in the legs as well as bladder, bowel, and sexual function. No treatments are presently available in clinical practice to reverse the effects of these devastating injuries. In order to reverse the loss of function after lumbosacral spinal cord injury, replacement of the lost nerve cells is required. Recent research studies have identified some properties that are shared by spinal cord neurons responsible for muscle and bladder control. Human embryonic stem cells can now be prepared in research laboratories to develop properties that are shared between nerve cells controlling muscle and bladder function. Such nerve cells are particularly at risk of degeneration and death as a result of injuries to the lumbosacral spinal cord. Human embryonic stem cells, which have undergone treatment to obtain properties of muscle and bladder controlling nerve cells, are now very attractive development candidates for new cell replacement therapies after lumbosacral spinal cord injuries. The proposed feasibility studies will study the properties of such cells in a clinically relevant rat model for lumbosacral spinal cord injuries. In Specific Aim 1, we will determine whether ACUTE transplantation of human embryonic stem cells, which have been treated to develop properties of specific lumbosacral spinal cord neurons, may replace lost nerve cells and result in a return of bladder function in a rat model of lumbosacral spinal cord injury and repair. In Specific Aim 2, we will determine whether DELAYED transplantation of human embryonic stem cells, which have been treated to develop properties of specific lumbosacral spinal cord neurons, may replace lost nerve cells and result in a return of bladder function in a rat model of lumbosacral spinal cord injury and repair. A variety of functional studies will determine the effect of the cell transplantation on bladder function, walking, and pain. We will also use detailed anatomical studies to determine in microscopes whether the transplanted cells have grown processes to connect with pelvic target tissues, including the lower urinary tract. If successful, the proposed experiments may lead to a new treatment strategy for patients with lumbosacral spinal cord injuries.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
There are presently about 250,000 patients living with neurological impairments from spinal cord injuries (SCIs) in the United States, and approximately 11,000 new cases present every year. SCIs typically result in paralysis, loss of sensation, pain as well as bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction. No successful treatments are available to reverse the neurological deficits that result from SCI. Common causes for SCIs include car and motorcycle accidents, skiing, diving, surfing, and snow boarding injuries, traumatic falls, sports injuries, and acts of violence. California medical centers encounter a large proportion of the overall cases in the U.S. because of our large population, extensive network of freeways, and an active life style with recreational activities taking place both along the Californian coastline and in the mountains. The proposed development candidate feasibility project will capitalize on recent progress in human stem cell science and surgical repair of conus medullaris/cauda equina (CM/CE) forms of SCI. Human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons and neuronal progenitors, which express the transcription factor Hb9, will be transplanted into the conus medullaris in attempts to replace lost motor and autonomic neurons after a lumbosacral ventral root avulsion injury in rats. Surgical replantation of avulsed lumbosacral ventral roots into the spinal cord will also be performed in this clinically relevant model for CM/CE injury and repair. If successful, our development candidate may reinnervate muscles and pelvic organs, including the lower urinary tract after CM/CE forms of SCI. Return of functional bladder control represents one of the absolute top priorities among the spinal cord injured population (Anderson, J Neurotrauma, 2004; 21, 1371-83). Successful recovery of bladder function after SCI is expected to have very significant impact on the quality of life of spinal cord injured subjects and markedly reduce health care costs. Recovery of bladder function in spinal cord injured subjects would markedly reduce or eliminate the need for intermittent bladder catheterizations and indwelling bladder catheters. The number of visits in physicians’ offices and already over-crowded California emergency rooms for bladder infections and other complications would be markedly reduced, thereby significantly reducing health care costs for both patients and our state. Improved neurological function among the SCI population is also expected to reduce care giver needs, thereby further reducing health care costs. The increased independence that will result from improved bladder control and concomitant possible recovery of other neurological functions, for instance in transfers and locomotion, will promote return to and participation in the work force for many individuals with SCI. These effects are also expected to bring a very positive effect to the California economy and increased quality of life for those living with an SCI.
Progress Report: 
  • Injuries to the lowest portion of the spine and the spinal cord commonly results in paralysis and impairment of bladder , bowel, and sexual functions. These injuries are usually referred to as conus medullaris and cauda equina forms of spinal cord injuries. Presently, no treatments are available to reverse the neurological deficits that result from these injuries.
  • In this project, we aim to reverse neurological deficits, including bladder function, in a rat model of spinal cord injury, which affects the lowermost portion of the spinal cord. This part of the spinal cord and the associated nerve roots are called the conus medullaris and cauda equina. In our experimental model, nerve roots carrying fibers that control muscle function and pelvic organs, such as the bladder and bowel, are injured at the surface of the spinal cord. This injury mimics many of the neurological deficits encountered in human cases.
  • For treatment purposes, we transplant human derived embryonic stem cells, which have been prepared to acquire properties of motor neurons, into the lowermost portion of the rat spinal cord after injury and surgical repair of nerve roots carrying motor fibers. The studies will evaluate both acute and delayed transplantation of human embryonoic
  • During the first year of the studies, we have developed improved protocols to increase our ability to produce large number of motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells. We have also developed improved methods to detect motor neurons during the neuron production process by using fluorescent reporters inside of the cells. The latter development is of great help when sorting and preparing cells with desired properties for transplantation studies. In addition, we have refined our surgical methods to make it less invasive, using a one-sided injury model instead of lesions on both sides of the spinal cord in rats. Specifically, bladder dysfunction can be assess after a one sided injury of nerve roots and be evaluated using a combination of bladder pressure recorings and electrical recordings referred to as electromyography (EMG) from muscles along the urethra. The revised procedure is well tolerated by the rats and is a suitable approach for studies of chronic injury and cell-based long-term treatments. A research manuscript describing this improved experimental method and refinement has been submitted to a scientific journal and reviewed, and the manuscript is currently undergoing our revisions before being considered for publication. The experimental refinement will greatly assist with our long-term studies on the effects of transplanted motor neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells. We have also begun experiments using our refined model and cells, which now can be produced in high numbers and be identifiable during both the cell culture steps and during the animal studies. Initial tissues have been harvested and are being processed for morphological analyses.
  • Injuries to the lowest portion of the spine and the spinal cord commonly results in paralysis and impairment of bladder , bowel, and sexual functions. These injuries are usually referred to as conus medullaris and cauda equina forms of spinal cord injuries. Presently, no treatments are available to reverse the neurological deficits that result from these injuries.
  • In this project, we aim to reverse neurological deficits, including bladder function, in a rat model of spinal cord injury, which affects the lowermost portion of the spinal cord. This part of the spinal cord and the associated nerve roots are called the conus medullaris and cauda equina. In our experimental model, nerve roots carrying fibers that control muscle function and pelvic organs, such as the bladder and bowel, are injured at the surface of the spinal cord. This injury mimics many of the neurological deficits encountered in human cases.
  • For treatment purposes, we transplant human derived embryonic stem cells, which have been prepared to acquire properties of motor neurons, into the lowermost portion of the rat spinal cord after injury and surgical repair of nerve roots carrying motor fibers. The studies will evaluate both acute and delayed transplantation of human embryonic stem cells, which have acquired properties of motor neurons.
  • During the second year of the studies, we have developed improved protocols to increase our ability to produce large number of motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells. We have also developed improved methods to detect motor neurons during the neuron production process by using fluorescent reporters inside of the cells. The latter development is of great help when sorting and preparing cells with desired properties for transplantation studies. In addition, we have refined our surgical methods to make it less invasive, using a one-sided injury model instead of lesions on both sides of the spinal cord in rats. Specifically, bladder dysfunction can be assessed after a one sided injury of nerve roots and be evaluated using a combination of bladder pressure recordings and electrical recordings referred to as electromyography (EMG) from muscles along the urethra. The revised procedure is well tolerated by the rats and is a suitable approach for studies of chronic injury and cell-based long-term treatments. A research manuscript describing this improved experimental method and refinement has been published. The experimental refinement will greatly assist with our long-term studies on the effects of transplanted motor neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells. We have also performed transplantations of embryonic human stem cell derived motor neurons into the rat spinal cord and demonstrated surgical feasibility as well as survival of large numbers of neurons in the rat spinal cord. Some of the transplanted cells also demonstrate anatomical markers for motor neurons after transplantation.

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