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