Neurological Disorders

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

Collection of skin biopsies to prepare fibroblasts from patients with Alzheimer's disease and cognitively healthy elderly controls

Funding Type: 
Tissue Collection for Disease Modeling
Grant Number: 
IT1-06589
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$643 693
Disease Focus: 
Alzheimer's Disease
Neurological Disorders
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Alzheimer's Disease (AD), the most common form of dementia in the elderly, affects over 5 million Americans. There are no treatments to slow progression or prevent AD. This reflects limitations in knowledge of mechanisms underlying AD, and in tools and models for early development and testing of treatment. Genetic breakthroughs related to early onset AD led to initial treatment targets related to a protein called amyloid, but clinical trials have been negative. Extensive research links genetic risk to AD, even when the age at onset is after the age of 65. AD affects the brain alone, therefore studying authentic nerve cells in the laboratory should provide the clearest insights into mechanisms and targets for treatment. This has recently become feasible due to advances in programming skin cells into stem cells and then growing (differentiating) them into nerve cells. In this project we will obtain skin biopsies from a total of 220 people with AD and 120 controls, who are extensively studied at the [REDACTED] AD Research Center. These studies include detailed genetic (DNA) analysis, which will allow genetic risks to be mapped onto reprogrammed cells. These derived cells that preserve the genetic background of the person who donated the skin biopsy will be made available to the research community, and have the promise to accelerate studies of mechanisms of disease, understanding genetic risk, new treatment targets, and screening of new treatments for this devastating brain disorder.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The proposed project will provide a unique and valuable research resource, which will be stored and managed in California. This resource will consist of skin cells or similar biological samples, suitable for reprogramming, obtained from well-characterized patients with Alzheimer's Disease and cognitively healthy elderly controls. Its immediate impact will be to benefit CIRM-funded researchers as well as the greater research community, by providing them access to critical tools to study, namely nerve cells that can be grown in a dish (cultured) that retain the genetic background of the skin cell donors. This technology to develop and reprogram cells into nerve cells or other cell types results from breakthroughs in stem cell research, many of which were developed using CIRM funding. Alzheimer's Disease affects over 600,000 Californians, and lacks effective treatment. Research into mechanisms of disease, identifying treatment targets, and screening novel drugs will be greatly improved and accelerated through the availability of the resources developed by this project, which could have a major impact on the heath of Californians. California is home to world class academic and private research institutes, Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Companies, many of whom are already engaged in AD research. This project could provide them with tools to make research breakthroughs and pioneer the development of novel treatments for AD.

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.
  • We are exploring the way that normal human skin and other types of cells can be converted to neurons. We have found that there are at least two fundamental genetic pathways of doing this that are influenced by different genes and may therefore represent a fertile ground for developing new methods for converting cells of different types to neurons. This could perhaps be useful for replacing neurons from other cell types in states where neurons are damaged or lost such as a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.

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.
  • 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 reporting period we have made good progress in both developing new assays and novel autophagy compounds and identifying potential genetic targets that could lead to novel therapeutic strategies for patients with HD and PD. We have developed methods to measure the degradation rates of proteins involved in causing neurodegeneration and the decay rates of mitochondria that are disrupted during the progression of these diseases. We are now investigating if and how these degradation rates differ in cells from patients with HD. We have developed novel compounds that can activate the autophagy pathway which is critical for degrading the toxic proteins that cause neurodegeneration. We are now testing if these compounds can increase the survival of neurons derived from iPSCs from patients with HD. Using pathway analysis we have also identified specific genes within the proteostasis network that are modulated in HD. Specifically we have identified deubiquitinating enzymes as modulators of HD induced toxicity and autophagy modulation, potentially indicating that importance of the autophagy pathway in the disease progression. We are also using RNAseq analysis to investigate if neurons derived from iPSCs from PD patients exhibit differences in the genes expressed in the proteostasis network. If we identify key genes we will use our established human neuron model for PD to validate whether these genes modulate the disease phenotype via changes in proteostasis. Ultimately we hope to identify overlapping targets that could potentially rescue disease associated phenotypes in both HD and PD.

Triplet Repeat Instability in Human iPSCs

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-05022
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 755 861
Disease Focus: 
Huntington's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Over twenty human genetic diseases are caused by expansion of simple DNA sequences composed of repeats of three nucleotides (such as CAG, CTG, CGG and GAA) within essential genes. These repeats can occur within the region of a gene that encodes the protein, generally resulting in proteins with large stretches of repeats of just one amino acid, such as runs of glutamine. These proteins are toxic, cause the death of specific types of brain cells and result in diseases such as Huntington’s disease (HD) and many of the spinocerebellar ataxias (a type of movement disorder). Other repeats can be in regions of genes that do not code for the protein itself, but are copied into messenger RNA, which is a copy of the gene that serves to generate the protein. These RNAs with expanded repeats are also toxic to cells, and sometimes these RNAs sequester essential cellular proteins. One example of this type of disease is Myotonic Dystrophy type 1, a form of muscular dystrophy. Lastly, there are two examples of repeat disorders where the repeats silence the genes harboring these mutations: these are Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA) and Fragile X syndrome (FXS). One limitation in the development of drugs to treat these diseases is the lack of appropriate cell models that represent the types of cells that are affected in these human diseases. With the advent of the technology to produce induced pluripotent stem cells from patient skin cells, and our ability to turn iPSCs into any cell type, such as neurons (brain cells) that are affected in these triplet repeat diseases, such cellular models are now becoming available. Our laboratories have generated iPSCs from fibroblasts obtained from patients with HD, FXS and FRDA. By comparing cells before and after reprogramming, we found that triplet repeats were expanded in the FRDA iPSCs, but not in HD iPSCs. This application is aimed at the understanding the molecular basis underlying triplet repeat expansion/instability that we have observed during the establishment and propagation of iPSCs from disease-specific fibroblasts. While artificial systems with reporter gene constructs have reproduced triplet repeat expansion in bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells, no cellular models have previously been reported that recapitulate repeat expansions at the endogenous cellular genes involved in these diseases. Therefore, our observations that repeat expansion is found in FRDA iPSCs provides the first opportunity to dissect the mechanisms involved in expansion at the molecular level for the authentic cellular genes in their natural chromatin environment. Repeat expansion is the central basis for these diseases, no matter what the outcome of the expansion (toxic protein or RNA or gene silencing), and a fuller understanding of how repeats expand may lead to new drugs to treat these diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
A major obstacle in the development of new drugs for human diseases is our lack of cell models that represent the tissues or organs that are affected in these diseases. Examples of such diseases are the triplet-repeat neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, the spinocerebellar ataxias, forms of muscular dystrophy, Fragile X syndrome and Friederich’s ataxia. These diseases, although relatively rare compared to cancer or heart disease, affect thousands of individuals in California. Recent advances in stem cell biology now make it possible to generate cells that reflect the cell types at risk in these diseases (such as brain, heart and muscle cells), starting from patient skin cells. Skin cells can be turned into stem cell-like cells (induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs), which can then give rise to just about any cell type in the human body. During the course of our studies, we found that iPSCs derived from Friedreich’s ataxia patient skin cells mimic the behavior of the genetic mutation in this disease. A simple repeat of the DNA sequence GAA is found in the gene encoding an essential protein called frataxin, and this repeat increases in length between generations in human families carrying this mutation. Over a certain threshold, the repeats silence this gene. It is also known that the repeats expand in brain cells in individuals with this disease. With the advent of patient derived iPSCs and neurons, we now have human model systems in which to study the mechanisms responsible for repeat expansion. We have already identified one set of proteins involved in repeat expansion and we now wish to delve more deeply into how the repeats expand. In this way, we may be able to identify new targets for drug development. We will extend our studies to Huntington’s disease and Fragile X syndrome. We have identified two possible therapeutic approaches for Friedreich’s ataxia, and identified molecules that either reactivate the silent gene or block repeat expansion. Our studies in related diseases may provide possible therapeutic strategies for these other disorders as well, which will be of benefit to patients suffering from these diseases, both in California and world-wide.
Progress Report: 
  • Over twenty human genetic diseases are caused by expansion of simple trinucleotide repeat sequences within essential genes, resulting in toxic proteins (as in the polyglutamine expansion diseases, such as Huntington’s disease (HD)), toxic RNAs (as in Myotonic Dystrophy type 1), or gene repression (as in Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA) and Fragile X syndrome (FXS)). Our laboratories have generated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from fibroblasts obtained from patients with Huntington’s disease (HD), Fragile X syndrome (FXS), Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) and Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA). By comparing cells before and after reprogramming, we found that triplet repeats were expanded in the FRDA and DM1 iPSCs, but not in HD iPSCs. During growth of the iPSCs in culture, the repeats continue to expand, suggesting that expansion might be linked to DNA replication in these cells. The expansion we observe in iPSCs does not occur in the fibroblast (skin cells) from which the iPSCs were derived. Similarly, on differentiation of the FRDA iPSCs into neurons (brain cells), repeat expansion stops. This observation suggests that some cellular factors necessary for expansion may be selectively expressed in iPSCs, but not in fibroblasts or neurons.
  • Over the past year, our studies have been aimed at the understanding the molecular basis underlying triplet repeat expansion/instability that we have observed during the establishment and propagation of iPSCs from disease-specific fibroblasts. Previous studies have implicated the mismatch repair (MMR) enzymes in repeat expansion in mouse models for HD and DM1. We find that silencing of the MSH2 gene, encoding one of the subunits of the MMR enzymes, impedes repeat expansion in human FRDA iPSCs. We find that components of the human mismatch repair (MMR) system are associated with the disease alleles in the FRDA and DM1 iPSCs, and that silencing of these genes at the level of their messenger RNAs is sufficient to suppress repeat expansion. Moreover, we have monitored the levels of the MMR enzymes in fibroblasts, iPSCs and neurons, and as expected these enzymes are present at higher amounts in the iPSCs, suggesting that it is the availability of these enzymes in iPSCs that may be responsible for repeat expansion.
  • We wish to determine whether it is the DNA structure of triplet-repeats or protein recognition of the repeats that recruits the MMR enzymes to triplet repeats in iPSCs. To this end, we used a series of small molecule probes that can be designed to target particular DNA sequences in the human genome, and we find that a molecule that targets the GAA-TTC repeats in the FRDA frataxin gene displaces MMR enzymes and prevents repeat expansion. We are currently exploring the mechanism whereby this molecule displaces the MMR enzymes. A deeper understanding of the molecular events that lead to repeat expansion at the endogenous cellular genes responsible for these diseases will likely lead to discoveries of new therapeutic strategies for these currently untreatable disorders.
  • Over the past year, our research efforts have focused on the generality of the results we found in human induced pluripotent stem cells derived from patients with the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA). FRDA is one of the trinucleotide repeat (TNR) diseases, and our major previous finding was that the GAA•TCC trinucleotide repeats that cause FRDA expand during isolation and propagation of FRDA hiPSCs. This expansion was shown to be dependent on enzymes that are involved in the repair of mismatches in the human genome. To extend these studies, we have now focused on hiPSCs from the related TNR diseases myotonic dystrophy, Huntington's disease and Fragile X syndrome. Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) is an inherited dominant muscular dystrophy caused by expanded CTG•CAG triplet repeats in the 3’ UTR of the DMPK1 gene, which produces a toxic gain-of-function CUG RNA. It has been shown that the severity of disease symptoms, age of onset and progression are related to the length of the triplet repeats. However, the mechanism(s) of CTG•CAG triplet-repeat instability is not fully understood. Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) were generated from DM1 and Huntington’s disease (HD) patient fibroblasts. We isolated 41 iPSC clones from DM1 fibroblasts, all showing different CTG•CAG repeat lengths, thus demonstrating somatic instability within the initial fibroblast population. During propagation of the iPSCs, the repeats expanded in a manner analogous to the intergenerational expansion observed in DM1 patient families. The correlation between repeat length and expansion rate identified the interval between 57 and 126 repeats as being an important length threshold where expansion rates dramatically increased. Moreover, longer repeats showed faster triplet-repeat expansion. The relatively short repeats in the gene responsible for Huntington's disease are below this threshold and hence do not expand in the iPSCs. The overall tendency of triplet repeats to expand ceased on differentiation into differentiated embryoid body or neurospheres. The mismatch repair components MSH2, MSH3 and MSH6 were highly expressed in iPSCs compared to fibroblasts, and only occupied the DMPK1 gene harboring longer CTG•CAG triplet repeats. In addition, shRNA silencing of MSH2 impeded CTG•CAG triplet-repeat expansion. We have also generated hiPSC lines from seven male subjects clinically diagnosed with fragile X syndrome. These hiPSCs have been thoroughly characterized with respect to pluripotency, DNA methylation status at the FMR1 gene, CGG repeat length, FMR1 expression and neuronal differentiation. The information gained from these studies provides new insight into a general mechanism of triplet repeat expansion in iPSCs.
  • Over the past year, our research efforts have focused on the generality of the results we found in human induced pluripotent stem cells derived from patients with the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA). FRDA is one of the trinucleotide repeat (TNR) diseases, and our major previous finding was that the GAA•TCC trinucleotide repeats that cause FRDA expand during isolation and propagation of FRDA hiPSCs. This expansion was shown to be dependent on enzymes that are involved in the repair of mismatches in the human genome. To extend these studies, we have focused on hiPSCs from the related TNR diseases myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1), Huntington's disease (HD), Fragile X syndrome (FXS), and Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD). DM1 is an inherited dominant muscular dystrophy caused by expanded CTG•CAG triplet repeats in the DMPK gene, which produces a toxic gain-of-function CUG RNA. It has been shown that the severity of disease symptoms, age of onset and progression are related to the length of the triplet repeats. However, the mechanism(s) of CTG•CAG triplet-repeat instability is not fully understood. hiPSCs were generated from DM1 and HD patient fibroblasts. Similar to our results in FRDA, DM1 hiPSCs show repeat instability, and repeat expansion is again dependent on the DNA mismatch repair system. We defined a threshold of repeat lengths where repeat expansion occurs. The relatively short repeats in the gene responsible for Huntington's disease are below this threshold and hence do not expand in the iPSCs. We have also generated hiPSC lines from seven male subjects clinically diagnosed with fragile X syndrome. These hiPSCs have been thoroughly characterized with respect to pluripotency, DNA methylation status at the FMR1 gene, CGG repeat length, FMR1 expression and neuronal differentiation. In recent studies, we have turned our attention to the common eye disease FECD, where ~75% or so of Caucassian patients have a CTG•CAG triplet-repeat in an intron of the gene encoding the essential transcription factor TCF4. We find repeat instability in fibroblasts from FECD patient fibroblasts, and repeat expansion in the corresponding hiPSCs. Importantly, similar to DM1 with the same repeat sequence as in FECD, the pathological mechanism in both diseases appear to be similar, namely RNA toxicity caused by sequestering essential messenger RNA processing factors. We have also identified a potential small molecule therapeutic that binds CTG•CAG triplet-repeats and are currently testing this molecule in the relevant patient iPSC-derived cell types. The information gained from these studies provides new insight into a general mechanism of triplet repeat expansion in iPSCs and has revealed a new therapeutic approach for these diseases.

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells for Tissue Regeneration

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-05232
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 341 064
Disease Focus: 
Neuropathy
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have tremendous potential for patient-specific cell therapies, which bypasses immune rejection issues and ethical concerns for embryonic stem cells (ESCs). However, to fully harness the therapeutic potential of iPSCs, many fundamental issues of cell transplantation remain to be addressed, e.g., how iPSC-derived cells participate in tissue regeneration, which type of cells should be derived for specific therapy, and what kind of matrix is more effective for cell therapies. The goal of this project is to use iPSC-derived neural crest stem cells (NCSCs) and nerve regeneration as a model to address these fundamental issues of stem cell therapies. NCSCs are multipotent and can differentiate into cell types in all three germ layers (including neural, vascular, osteogenic and chondrogenic cells), which makes NCSC a valuable model to study stem cell differentiation and tissue regeneration. Peripheral nerve injuries and demyelinating diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis, familial dysautonomia) affect millions of people. Stem cell therapy is a promising approach to cure these diseases, which will have broad impact on healthcare. This project will advance our understanding of how extracellular microenvironment (native or engineered) regulates stem cell fate and behavior during tissue regeneration, and whether stem cells such as iPSC-NCSCs and differentiated cells such as iPSC-Schwann cells have different therapeutic effects. The results from this project will provide insights that will facilitate the translation of stem cell technologies into therapies for nerve injuries, demyelinating diseases and many other disorders that may be treated with iPSC-NCSCs.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), especially iPSCs without the integration of reprogramming factors into the genome, are valuable to model disease and to generate autologous cells for therapies. Understanding the role and differentiation of iPSC-derived cells in tissue regeneration will facilitate the translation of stem cell technologies into clinical applications. iPSC-derived neural crest stem cells (NCSCs) can differentiate into a variety of cell types, and hold promise for the therapies of diseases such as nerve injuries, demyelinating diseases, spina bifida, vascular diseases, osteoporosis and arthritis. The isolation and characterization of iPSC-NCSCs will provide a basis for their broad applications in tissue regeneration and disease modeling. This project will use peripheral nerve regeneration as a model to address the fundamental issues of using iPSC-NCSCs for therapies. Peripheral nerve injuries (over 800,000 cases in the United States every year) are very common following traumatic injuries and major surgeries (e.g., removing tumor), which often require surgical repair. Stem cell therapies can accelerate nerve regeneration and avoid the degeneration of muscle and other tissues lack of innervation. Since iPSC-NCSCs can promote the myelination of axons, the therapies for nerve injuries could also be adopted to treat demyelinating diseases. In many cases of stem cell therapies, matrix and scaffold materials are needed to enhance cell survival and achieve local delivery. The studies on appropriate matrix for stem cell delivery will provide a rational basis for designing and optimizing materials for stem cell therapies. The fundamental issues addressed in this project, such as the differentiation and signaling of transplanted cells, the therapeutic effects of cells at the different stages of differentiation and the roles of delivery matrix/materials, will have implications for stem cell therapies in many other tissues. Overall, the results from this project will advance our knowledge on stem cell differentiation and function during tissue regeneration, help us translate the knowledge into clinical applications, and benefit the health care in California and our society.
Progress Report: 
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have tremendous potential for regenerative medicine applications. Here we use peripheral nerve regeneration as a model to address the fundamental issues of using iPSCs and their derivatives for therapies. Specifically, we used integration-free iPSCs for our studies because this type of iPSCs has potential for clinical applications. We derived and characterized neural crest stem cells (NCSCs) from integration-free iPSCs, and demonstrated that these NCSCs can differentiate into a variety of cell types, including Schwann cells. We delivered NCSCs into nerve conduits to treat peripheral nerve injuries, and performed functional studies, electrophysiology analysis and histological analysis. Ongoing studies suggest that the transplantation of iPSC-NCSCs accelerate nerve regeneration. To investigate the interactions of transplanted stem cells with endogenous neural progenitors, we isolated and characterized endogenous progenitors from injured nerves, which will be used for mechanistic studies. In addition, we engineered the chemical components and the structure of nerve conduits, and developed and characterized hydrogels that could be used to deliver neurotrophic factors and minimize scar formation. The roles of neurotrophic factors, transplanted/endogenous stem cells and matrix for stem cell delivery will be investigated.
  • We use peripheral nerve regeneration as a model to address the critical issues of using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and their derivatives for tissue regeneration. In the past year, we have made progress in all three Specific Aims. We generated 5 new integration-free IPSC lines by using episomal reprogramming. We also tested the methods of using biomaterials and chemical compounds to reprogram cells, in the presence or absence of transcriptional factors. We have derived and characterized additional neural crest stem cell (NCSC) lines from these new iPSC lines, and demonstrated that these NCSCs are multipotent in their differentiation potential. To investigate the mechanisms of how NCSCs enhanced the functional recovery of transected sciatic nerves, we examined the effects of paracrine signaling, cell differentiation and matrix stiffness. In vivo experiments showed that transplanted cells secreted neurotrophic factors to promote axon regeneration. In addition, NCSCs differentiated into Schwann cells to enhance myelination. The stiffness of extracellular matrix (ECM) indeed has effect on NCSC differentiation.
  • Here we use peripheral nerve regeneration as a model to address the critical issues of using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and their derivatives for tissue regeneration. In the past year, we have made progress in all three Specific Aims, as detailed below. In Specific Aim 1, we generated 5 new integration-free IPSC lines by using episomal reprogramming. We also optimized the protocol to derive neural crest stem cells (NCSCs) from integration-free human iPSCs, and fully characterized the derived cells. Transplantation of selected NCSC lines significantly improved the functional recovery of peripheral nerve following injury. In addition, transplanted NCSCs differentiated into Schwann cells around regenerated axons. Nerve growth factor (NGF) appeared to be a major neurotrophic factor expressed by NCSCs, which was involved in nerve regeneration. In Specific Aim 2, we derived and characterized Schwann cells from NCSCs. Transplantation of NCSCs or Schwann cells showed that NCSC transplantation had better functional recovery than Schwann cell transplantation, suggesting that the differentiation stage of transplanted cells is critical for stem cell therapies. In Specific Aim 3, we demonstrated that the soft matrix worked much better than stiffer matrix for NCSC delivery and the functional recovery of damaged nerve. A new direction for this Specific Aim is a ground-breaking finding that matrix stiffness regulates the direct reprograming of fibroblasts into neurons, which has applications in generating neurons for drug discovery and disease modeling. Overall, our findings underline the importance of stem cell differentiation stage and biomaterials property in stem cell therapies, and will have broad impact on using stem cells for nerve regeneration and many other regenerative medicine applications.

Studying neurotransmission of normal and diseased human ES cell-derived neurons in vivo

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-02129
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 382 400
Disease Focus: 
Autism
Neurological Disorders
Rett's Syndrome
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Stem cells, including human embryonic stem cells, provide extraordinary new opportunities to model human diseases and may serve as platforms for drug screening and validation. Especially with the ever-improving effective and safe methodologies to produce genetically identical human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), increasing number of patient-specific iPSCs will be generated, which will enormously facilitate the disease modeling process. Also given the advancement in human genetics in defining human genetic mutations for various disorders, it is becoming possible that one can quickly start with discovery of disease-related genetic mutations to produce patient-specific iPSCs, which can then be differentiated into the right cell type to model for the disease in vitro, followed by setting up the drug screening paradigms using such disease highly relevant cells. In the context of neurological disorders, both synaptic transmission and gene expression can be combined for phenotyping and phenotypic reversal screening and in vitro functional (synaptic transmission) reversal validation. The missing gap for starting with the genetic mutation to pave the way to drug discovery and development is in vivo validation-related preclinical studies. In order to fill this gap, in this application we are proposing to use Rett syndrome as a proof of principle, to establish human cell xenografting paradigm and perform optogenetics and in vivo recording or functional MRI (fMRI), to study the neurotransmission/connectivity characteristics of normal and diseased human neurons. Our approach will be applicable to many other human neurological disease models and will allow for a combination of pharmacokinetic, and in vivo toxicology work together with the in vivo disease phenotypic reversal studies, bridging the gap between cell culture based disease modeling and drug screening to in vivo validation of drug candidates to complete the cycle of preclinical studies, paving the way to clinical trials. A success of this proposed study will have enormous implications to complete the path of using human pluripotent stem cells to build novel paradigms for a complete drug development process.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Rett Syndrome (RTT) is a progressive neurodevelopmental disorder caused by primarily loss-of-function mutations in the X-linked MeCP2 gene. It mainly affects females with an incidence of about 1 in 10,000 births. After up to 18 months of apparently normal development, children with RTT develop severe neurological symptoms including motor defects, mental retardation, autistic traits, seizures and anxiety. RTT is one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) that affects many children in California. In this application, we propose to use our hESC-based Rett syndrome (RTT) model as a proof-of-principle case to define a set of core transcriptome that can be used for drug screenings. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) hold great potential for cell replacement therapy where cells are lost due to disease or injury. For the diseases of the central nervous system, hESC-derived neurons could be used for repair. This approach requires careful characterization of hESCs prior to utilizing their therapeutic potentials. Unfortunately, most of the characterization of hESCs are performed in vitro when disease models are generated using hESC-derived neurons. In this application, using RTT as a proof of principle study, we will bridge the gap and perform in vivo characterization of transplanted normal and RTT human neurons. Our findings will not only benefit RTT and other ASD patients, but also subsequently enable broad applications of this approach in drug discovery using human pluripotent stem cell-based disease models to benefit the citizens of California in a broader spectrum.
Progress Report: 
  • The potential of stem cells, such as human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), has been widely recognized for cell replacement therapy, modeling human diseases and serving as a platform for drug screening and validation. In this grant, we proposed to use Rett syndrome as a proof of principle, to establish a human cell xenografting paradigm (i.e., transplanting human cells into mouse/rat embryos) and perform in vivo analyses to study the neurotransmission characteristics of normal and diseased human neurons. We initially determined that it was feasible to use the lentiviral CamKII-ChR2 construct to drive excitatory neuronal-specific expression of ChR2 in mouse hippocampal pyramidal neurons as well as human embryonic stem cell derived neurons. Importantly, we have found that both ChR2 expressing mouse hippocampal neurons and human neurons derived from embryonic stem cells can spike action potentials when stimulated in vitro, indicating that exogenously expressed ChR2 is functional. Furthermore, we successfully transplanted human embryonic stem cell derived neural stem/progenitor cells into fetal rat forebrain at embryonic day 17. Our analysis of the recipient animals at postnatal day 21 showed that approximately 40-50% of the cells survived and began to express neuronal markers, such as NeuN, indicating the neuronal differentiation, as well as the long-term survival, of transplanted human cells in the recipient animals. As originally proposed, we will proceed with the documentation of the in vivo phenotype of Rett syndrome diseased neurons. Our approach will be particularly crucial to not only validate candidate drugs or other therapeutic interventions to treat Rett syndrome using xeno-transplanted human Rett neurons, but also to study the in vivo behavior of those neurons with and without the therapeutic intervention.
  • Stem cells, such as human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), carry great potentials for cell replacement therapy, human diseases modeling and drug screenings. We proposed to use Rett syndrome (RTT) as a proof of principle, to establish a human cell xenografting paradigm (i.e., transplanting human cells into mouse/rat brains) to study the function of normal and diseased human neurons in vivo. During the 2nd year of funding, we gained new insights into the electrophysiological characteristics of RTT neurons. Specifically, we found that the neurotransmission phenotype of neurons derived from RTT patient-specific iPSCs was highly circuitry-dependent. On the other hand, when cell-intrinsic electrophysiological properties were measured, extremely stable abnormalities in action potential profiles, resting membrane potentials, etc. were observed, indicative of the validity of the culture system. Given that currently scientists have very limited control over the features of neuronal connections formed in culture conditions, our findings make the in vivo assessment of RTT neuronal properties even more desirable, because the circuitry features are more amenable in vivo, with anatomical cues. In light of aforementioned in vitro findings, we focused our attention to both cell-intrinsic electrophysiological characteristics of RTT neurons, as well as their connectivity or neural network properties, after neurons were integrated into host circuits in vivo following xenotransplantation. Our preliminary data demonstrated that the action-potential abnormalities of RTT neurons are preserved in vivo after xenotransplantation. So far we have established a relatively optimized system for studying human iPSC-derived RTT neurons integrated into mouse brains. We are poised to uncover not only the neuronal intrinsic electrophysiological properties but also the connectivity of wild type and RTT neurons with host circuits. Moreover, we have made substantial progress with regards to a novel technology, i.e., single neuron gene expression profiling coupled with electrophysiological recordings both in vitro and in vivo. Up to now, 8 RTT iPSC-derived neurons were profiled via RNA sequencing following electrophysiological recordings, and some interesting clues have already been revealed. Currently we are collecting more neurons and we expect to make unprecedented discoveries with mechanistic insights into RTT disease pathophysiology, which will facilitate the development of novel therapies for RTT. This paradigm is also generally applicable for studying other neurological disorders.
  • Over the last decade, the importance of the stem cells for cell replacement therapy, human disease modeling and drug toxicity/therapy screenings has been greatly appreciated by both the general public and the scientific community. In our application utilizing human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), we proposed to use Rett syndrome (RTT) as a proof of principle to establish a human cell xenografting paradigm (i.e., transplanting human cells into mouse/rat brains) to study the function of normal and diseased human neurons in vivo. While we increased our knowledge about the electrophysiological characteristics of RTT neurons during Year 2 funding, we mainly focused on the transplantation of the normal and diseased cells, as well as the molecular signatures of transplanted cells at a single cell level, during Year 3 of the funding period. Following our initial transplantation experiments, we observed clustering of the transplanted cells at the injection site, even though there were number of cells integrating into the host brains. In order to circumvent this problem and answer our original questions, we developed an alternative approach. Specifically, we adopted the “transparent brain” methodology to better visualize the integration and the projections of the transplanted cells, as well as the circuitries that they participate, in the host environment to reveal the connectivity of wild type and RTT neurons with the host circuits. With this method, we’re able to follow the transplanted RTT neurons at a higher resolution -without the limitations of the conventional approaches- for studying human iPSC-derived RTT neurons integrated into mouse brains. As part of our last Specific Aim, we’ve performed single neuron gene expression profiling coupled with electrophysiological recordings both in vitro and in vivo. Specifically, we implemented electrophysiological recordings from the transplanted RTT iPSC-derived neurons and isolated the genomic material from the same cell to perform transcriptome analyses. We collected significant amount of data from RNA sequencing experiments and have been performing relevant bioinformatic analyses. In order to complete the gene expression profiling analysis, we obtained a no-cost-extension of the project, and upon completion of the no-cost-extension period, the relevant report will be filed outlining the outcomes of the single neuron transcriptome analysis coupled with electrophysiology. Collectively, our findings provide mechanistic insights into RTT disease pathophysiology, which will facilitate the development of novel therapies for RTT. Lastly, our approach is applicable for studying other neurological disorders in addition to RTT.

Developing a method for rapid identification of high-quality disease specific hIPSC lines

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies II
Grant Number: 
RT2-01927
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 816 157
Disease Focus: 
Alzheimer's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Elucidating how genetic variation contributes to disease susceptibility and drug response requires human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (hIPSC) lines from many human patients. Yet, current methods of hIPSC generation are labor-intensive and expensive. Thus, a cost-effective, non-labor intensive set of methods for hIPSC generation and characterization is essential to bring the translational potential of hIPSC to disease modeling, drug discovery, genomic analysis, etc. Our project combines technology development and scaling methods to increase throughput and reduce cost of hiPSC generation at least 10-fold, enabling the demonstration, and criterion for success, that we can generate 300 useful hiPSC lines (6 independent lines each for 50 individuals) by the end of this project. Thus, we propose to develop an efficient, cost effective, and minimally labor-intensive pipeline of methods for hIPSC identification and characterization that will enable routine generation of tens to hundreds of independent hIPSC lines from human patients. We will achieve this goal by adapting two simple and high throughput methods to enable analysis of many candidate hIPSC lines in large pools. These methods are already working in our labs and are called "fluorescence cell barcoding" (FCB) and expression cell barcoding (ECB). To reach a goal of generating 6 high quality hIPSC lines from one patient, as many as 60 candidate hIPSC colonies must be expanded and evaluated individually using labor and cost intensive methods. By improving culturing protocols, and implementing suitable pooled analysis strategies, we propose to increase throughput at least 10-fold with a substantial drop in cost. In outline, the pipeline we propose to develop will begin with the generation of 60 candidate hIPSC lines per patient directly in 96 well plates. All 60 will be analyzed for diagnostic hIPSC markers by FCB in 1 pooled sample. The 10 best candidates per patient will then be picked for expression and multilineage differentiation analyses with the goal of finding the best 6 from each patient for digital karyotype analyses. Success at 10-fold scaleup as proposed here may be the first step towards further scaleup once these methods are fully developed. Aim 1: To develop a cost-effective and minimally labor-intensive set of methods/pipeline for the generation and characterization high quality hIPSC lines from large numbers of human patients. We will test suitability/develop a set of methods that allow inexpensive and rapid characterization of 60 candidate hIPSC lines per patient at a time. Aim 2: To demonstrate/test/evaluate the success and cost-effectiveness of our pipeline by generating 6 high quality hIPSC lines from each of 50 human patients from [REDACTED]. We will obtain skin biopsies and expand fibroblasts from 50 patients, and generate and analyze a total of 6 independent hIPSC lines from each using the methods developed in Aim 1.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Many Californians suffer from diseases whose origin is poorly understood, and which are not treatable in an effective or economically advantageous manner. Part of solving this problem relies upon elucidating how genetic variation contributes to disease susceptibility and drug response and better understanding disease mechanism. Achieving these goals can be accelerated through the use of human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (hIPSC) lines from many human patients. Yet, current methods of hIPSC generation are labor-intensive and expensive. Thus, a cost-effective, non-labor intensive set of methods for hIPSC generation and characterization is essential to bring the translational potential of hIPSC to disease modeling, drug discovery, genomic analysis, etc. If successful, our project will lead to breakthroughs in understanding of disease, development of better therapies, and economic development in California as businesses that use our methods are launched. In addition, new therapies will bring cost-savings in healthcare to Californians, stimulate employment since Californians will be employed in businesses that develop and sell these therapies, and relieve much suffering from the burdens of chronic disease.
Progress Report: 
  • An important problem in stem cell and regenerative medicine research has been the ability to quickly and cheaply generate and characterize reprogrammed stem cells from defined human patients. The primary goal of our project is to address this need by developing new technologies that allow stem cell lines to be characterized in large mixed pools as opposed to one by one. Our new methods use flow cytometry and highly sensitive methods for detecting the activity of genes in the cell lines. We made excellent progress in the first year and reduced flow cytometry methods to practice taking advantage of a method called fluorescence cell barcoding. Methods for analyzing activity of genes and chromosome number are in progress and being tested. Our ultimate goal is to reduce cost tenfold and increase speed by about tenfold and our methods development is on track to accomplish this aim.
  • A key bottleneck in reprogramming technology to make induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cell lines is the ability to make large numbers of lines from large numbers of patients in a way that is cost effective and minimizes labor. Our project has focused primarily on dropping the cost of characterization of candidate lines. We have made a number of discoveries about the behavior of candidate reprogrammed lines that allow us to drop cost and labor needed for candidate reprogrammed line characterization. We measured the frequency of candidate lines that were well-behaved in a large retroviral reprogramming experiment, which allows us to rigorously estimate how many candidate lines must be picked and analyzed if 4-6 high-quality lines are to be generated for every patient fibroblast sample subjected to typical retroviral reprogramming technology. We then continued our work on developing a combination of different array and microfluidic chip technologies to measure the chromosome number in each candidate line and the ability of each line to be pluripotent, i.e., to be able to generate many different type of cells similar to embryonic stem cells. We are optimistic that our work will simplify and drop the cost of the characterization process so that it costs far less than before our work was initiated.
  • Reprogrammed stem cell lines, i.e., induced pluripotent stem cell lines, have the potential to revolutionize research into causes of disease and genetic contributions to the causes of disease. One key limitation, however, is the ability to generate large numbers of different stem cell lines from different people to sample the range of genetic variation in the human population as it relates to disease development. A key bottleneck is the speed and cost with which reprogrammed stem cell lines can be generated and validated for usefulness. We have succeeded in developing a streamlined workflow for characterization of reprogrammed stem cell lines that drops the cost for characterization from several thousand dollars to a few hundred dollars and increases the speed and number of lines that can be handled substantially. We take advantage of novel genetic characterization methods to analyze genetic stability and the pattern of gene expression as it reveals the capabilities of the stem cell lines. We are finishing up the loose ends on this project now and should have a high quality publication prepared for submission shortly that describes this simple and inexpensive workflow that we have developed with modern gene characterization methods.

Development of a Hydrogel Matrix for Stem Cell Growth and Neural Repair after Stroke

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies II
Grant Number: 
RT2-01881
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 825 613
Disease Focus: 
Stroke
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability. Most patients survive their initial stroke, but do not recover fully. Because of incomplete recovery, up to 1/3 of stroke patients are taken from independence to a nursing home or assisted living environment, and most are left with some disability in strength or control of the arms or legs. There is no treatment that promotes brain repair and recovery in this disease. Recent studies have shown that stem cell transplantation into the brain can promote repair and recovery in animal models of stroke. However, a stem cell therapy for stroke has not reached the clinic. There are at least three limitations to the development of a human stroke stem cell therapy: most of the transplanted cells die, most of the cells that survive do not interact with the surrounding brain, and the process of injecting stem cells into the brain may damage the normal brain tissue that is near the stroke site. The studies in this grant develop a novel investigative team and research approach to achieve a solution to these limits. Using the combined expertise of engineering, stem cell biology and stroke scientists the studies in this grant will develop tissue bioengineering systems for a stem cell therapy in stroke. The studies will develop a biopolymer hydrogel that provides a pro-growth and pro-survival environment for stem cells when injected with them into the brain. This approach has three unique aspects. First, the hydrogel system utilizes biological components that mimic the normal brain environment and releases specific growth factors that enhance transplanted stem cell survival. Second, these growth factors will also likely stimulate the normal brain to undergo repair and recovery, providing a dual mechanism for neural repair after stroke. Third, this approach allows targeting of the stroke cavity for a stem cell transplant, and not normal brain. The stroke cavity is an ideal target for a stroke stem cell therapy, as it is a cavity and can receive a stem cell transplant without displacing normal brain, and it lies adjacent to the site in the brain of most recovery in this disease—placing the stem cell transplant near the target brain region for repair in stroke. The progress from stroke stem cell research has identified stem cell transplantation as a promising treatment for stroke. The research in this grant develops a next generation in stem cell therapies for the brain by combining new bioengineering techniques to develop an integrated hydrogel/stem cell system for transplantation, survival and neural repair in this disease.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Advances in the early treatment of stroke have led to a decline in the death rate from this disease. At the same time, the overall incidence of stroke is projected to substantially increase because of the aging population. These two facts mean that stroke will not be lethal, but instead produce a greater number of disabled survivors. A 2006 estimate placed over half of the annual cost in stroke as committed to disabled stroke survivors, and exceeding $30 billion per year in the United States. The studies in this grant develop a novel stem cell therapy in stroke by focusing on one major bottleneck in this disease: the inability of most stem cell therapies to survive and repair the injured brain. With its large population California accounts for roughly 24% of all stroke hospital discharges in the Unites States. The development of a new stem cell therapy approach for this disease will lead to a direct benefit to the State of California.
Progress Report: 
  • This grant develops a tissue bioengineering approach to stem cell transplantation as a treatment for brain repair and recovery in stroke. Stem cell transplantation has shown promise as a therapy that promotes recovery in stroke. Stem cell transplantation in stroke has been limited by poor survival of the transplanted cells. The studies in this grant utilize a multidisciplinary team of bioengineers, neuroscientists/neurologists and stem cell biologists to develop an approach in which stem or progenitor cells can be transplanted into the site of the stroke within a biopolymer hydrogel that provides an environment which supports cell survival and treatment of the injured brain. These hydrogels need to contain naturally occurring brain molecules, so that they do not release foreign or toxic components when they degrade. Further, the hydrogels have to remain liquid so that the injection approach can be minimally invasive, and then gel within the brain. In the past year the fundamental properties of the hydrogels have been determined and the optimal physical characteristics, such as elasticity, identified. Hydrogels have been modified to contain molecules which stem or progenitor cells will recognize and support survival, and to contain growth factors that will both immediately release and, using a novel nanoparticle approach, more slowly release. These have been tested in culture systems and advanced to testing in rodent stroke models. This grant also tests the concept that the stem/progenitor cell that is more closely related to the area within the brain that receives the transplant will provide a greater degree of neural repair and recovery. Progress has been made in the past year in differentiating induced pluripotent stem cells along a lineage that more closely resembles the part of the brain injured in this stroke model, the cerebral cortex.
  • This grant determines the effect of a tissue bioengineering approach to stem cell survival and engraftment after stroke, as means of improving functional recovery in this disease. Stem cell transplantation in stroke has been limited by the poor survival of transplanted cells and their lack of differentiation in the brain. These studies use a biopolymer hydrogel, made of naturally occurring molecules, to provide a pro-survival matrix to the transplanted cells. The studies in the past year developed the chemical characteristics of the hydrogel that promote survival of the cells. These characteristics include the modification of the hydrogel so that it contains specific amounts of protein signals which resemble those seen in the normal stem cell environment. Systematic variation of the levels of these protein signals determined an optimal concentration to promote stem cell survival in vitro. Next, the studies identified the chemistry and release characteristics from the hydrogel of stem cell growth factors that normally promotes survival and differentiation of stem cells. Two growth factors have been tested, with the release characteristics more completely defined with one specific growth factor. The studies then progressed to determine which hydrogels supported stem cell survival in vivo in a mouse model of stroke. Tests of several hydrogels determined that some provide poor cell survival, but one that combines the protein signals, or “motifs”, that were studied in vitro provided improved survival in vivo. These hydrogels did not provoke any additional scarring or inflammation in surrounding tissue after stroke. Studies in the coming year will now determine if these stem cell/hydrogel matrices promote recovery of function after stroke, testing both the protein motif hydrogels and those that contain these motifs plus specific growth factors.
  • This grant determines the effect of a tissue bioengineering approach to stem cell survival and engraftment after stroke, as means of improving functional recovery in this disease. Stem cell transplantation in stroke has been limited by the poor survival of transplanted cells and their lack of differentiation in the brain. These studies use a biopolymer hydrogel, made of naturally occurring molecules, to provide a pro-survival matrix to the transplanted cells. The studies in past years developed the two chemical characteristics of hydrogels that contain recognition or signal elements for stem cells: “protein motifs” that resemble molecules in the normal stem cell environment and growth factors that normally communicate to stem cells in the brain. The hydrogels were engineered so that they contain these familiar stem cell protein motifs and growth factors and release the growth factors over a slow and sustained time course. In the past year on this grant, we tested the effects of hydrogels that had the combined characteristics of these protein motifs and growth factors, at varying concentrations, for their effect on induced pluripotent neural precursor cells (iPS-NPCs) in culture. We identified an optimum concentration for cell survival and for differentiation into immature neurons. We then initiated studies of the effects of this optimized hydrogel in vivo in a mouse model of stroke. These studies are ongoing. They will determine the cell biological effect of this hydrogel on adjacent tissue and on the transplanted cells—determining how the hydrogel enhances engraftment of the transplant. The behavioral studies, also under way, will determine if this optimized hydrogel/iPS-NPC transplant enhances recovery of movement, or motor, function after stroke.

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.
  • 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 synaptogenesis 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. We also show for the first time that iPSC-derived human neurons are able to generate synchronized neuronal networks using a multi-electrode array approach. We showed that RTT and ASD neurons behave differently from controls and defects in synchronization can be rescued with candidate drugs. Finally, we concluded our analyses on gene expression, collected from several neurons and progenitor cells derived from controls and autistic patients. We revealed and validated pathways that are altered in ASD patients, defined by specific clinical phenotypes (macrencephaly).

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: 
All adult tissues contain stem cells. Some tissues, like bone marrow and skin, harbor more adult stem cells; other tissues, like muscle, have fewer. When a tissue or organ is injured these stem cells possess a remarkable ability to divide and multiply. 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 self-renew and to proliferate, which in turn hinders tissue regeneration. Our strategy is to commandeer the molecular machinery responsible for adult stem cell self-renewal and proliferation and by doing so, stimulate the endogenous program of tissue regeneration. This approach takes advantage of the solution that Nature itself developed for repairing damaged or diseased tissues, and controls adult stem cell proliferation in a localized, highly controlled fashion. This strategy circumvents the immunological, medical, and ethical hurdles that exist when exogenous stem cells are introduced into a human. When utilizing this strategy the goal of reaching clinical trials in human patients within 5 years becomes realistic. Specifically, we will target the growing problem of neurologic, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and wound healing diseases by local delivery of a protein that promotes the body’s inherent ability to repair and regenerate tissues. We have evidence that this class of proteins, when delivered locally to an injury site, is able to stimulate adult tissue stem cells to grow and repair/replace the deficient tissue following injury. We have developed technologies to package the protein in a specialized manner that preserves its biological activity but simultaneously restricts its diffusion to unintended regions of the body. For example, when we treat a skeletal injury with this packaged protein we augment the natural ability to heal bone by 350%; and when this protein is delivered to the heart immediately after an infarction cardiac output is improved and complications related to scarring are reduced. This remarkable capacity to augment tissue healing is not limited to bones and the heart: the same powerful effect can be elicited in the brain, and skin injuries. The disease targets of stroke, bone fractures, heart attacks, and skin wounds and ulcers represent an enormous health care burden now, but this burden is expected to skyrocket because our population is quickly aging. Thus, our proposal addresses a present and ongoing challenge to healthcare for the majority of Californians, with a novel therapeutic strategy that mimics the body’s inherent repair mechanisms.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Californians represent 1 in 7 Americans, and make up the single largest healthcare market in the United States. The diseases and injuries that affect Californians affect the rest of the US, and the world. For example, stroke is the third leading cause of death, with more than 700,000 people affected every year. It is a leading cause of serious long-term disability, with an estimated 5.4 million stroke survivors currently alive today. Symptoms of musculoskeletal disease are the number two most cited reasons for visit to a physician. Musculoskeletal disease is the leading cause of work-related and physical disability in the United States, with arthritis being the leading chronic condition reported by the elderly. In adults over the age of 70, 40% suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee and of these nearly 80% have limitation of movement. By 2030, nearly 67 million US adults will be diagnosed with arthritis. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death, and is a major cause of disability worldwide. The annual socioeconomic burden posed by cardiovascular disease is estimated to exceed $400 billion annually and remains a major cause of health disparities and rising health care costs. Skin wounds from burns, trauma, or surgery, and chronic wounds associated with diabetes or pressure ulcer, exact a staggering toll on our healthcare system: Burns alone affect 1.25M Americans each year, and the economic global burden of these injuries approaches $50B/yr. In California alone, the annual healthcare expenditures for stroke, skeletal repair, heart attacks, and skin wound healing are staggering and exceed 700,000 cases, 3.5M hospital days, and $34B. We have developed a novel, protein-based therapeutic platform to accelerate and enhance tissue regeneration through activation of adult stem cells. This technology takes advantage of a powerful stem cell factor that is essential for the development and repair of most of the body’s tissues. We have generated the first stable, biologically active recombinant Wnt pathway agonist, and showed that this protein has the ability to activate adult stem cells after tissue injury. Thus, our developmental candidate leverages the body’s natural response to injury. We have generated exciting preclinical results in a variety of animals models including stroke, skeletal repair, heart attack, and skin wounding. If successful, this early translational award would have enormous benefits for the citizens of California and beyond.
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.

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