The capacity of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) to perpetuate themselves indefinitely in culture and to differentiate to all cell types of the body has lead to numerous studies that aim to isolate therapeutically relevant cells for the benefit of patients, and also to study how genetic diseases develop. However, hESCs can cause tumors called teratomas when placed in the body and therefore, we need to separate potentially beneficial cells from hazardous hESCs. Thus, potential therapeutics cannot advance until the development of methodologies that eliminate undifferentiated cells and enrich tissue stem cells. In our proposal we hope to define the cell surface markers that are differentially expressed by committed hESC-derived stem cells and others that are expressed by teratogenic hESCs. To do this we will carry out a large screen of cell subsets that form during differentiation using a collection of unique reagents called monoclonal antibodies, many already obtained or made by us, to define the cell-surface markers that are expressed by teratogenic cells and others that detect valuable tissue stem cells. This collection, after filing for IP protection, would be available for CIRM investigators in California. We were the first to isolate mouse and human adult blood-forming stem cells, human brain stem cells, and mouse muscle stem cells, all by antibody mediated cell-sorting approaches. Antibody mediated identification of cell subsets that arise during early hESC differentiation will allow separation and characterization of defined subpopulations; we would isolate cells that are committed to the earliest lineage known to form multiple cell types in the body including bone, blood, heart and muscle. These cells would be induced to differentiate further to the blood forming and heart muscle forming lineages. Enriched, and eventually purified hESC-derived blood-forming stem cells and heart muscle stem cells will be tested for their potential capacity to engraft and improve function in animal models. Blood stem cells will be transplanted into immunodeficient mice to test their capacity to give rise to all blood cell types; and heart muscle stem cells will be transferred to mouse hearts that had an artificial coronary artery blockage, a model for heart attack damage. Finally, we will test the capacity of blood stem cell transplantation to induce transplantation tolerance towards heart muscle stem cells from the same donor cell line. Transplantation tolerance in this case means that the heart cells would be accepted as ‘self’ by the mouse that had it’s unrelated donor immune system replaced wholly or in part by blood forming stem cells from the same hESC line that gave rise to the transplantable heart stem cells, and therefore would not be rejected by it’s own immune system. This procedure would allow transplantation of beneficial tissues such as heart, insulin-producing cells, etc., without the use of immunosuppressive drugs.
The principle objective of this proposal is to develop reagents which, in combinations, can identify and isolate tissue-regenerating stem cells derived from hESC lines. The undifferentiated hESCs are dangerous for transplantation into humans, as they cause tumors. We propose to prepare reagents that identify and can be used to delete or prospectively isolate these tumor-causing undifferentiated hESCs. HESC-derived tissue stem cells have the potential to regenerate damaged tissues and organs, and don’t cause tumors. We propose to develop reagents that can be used to identify and prospectively isolate pure human blood-forming stem cells derived from hESCs, and separately other reagents that can be used to identify and prospectively isolate pure heart-forming stem or progenitor cells. These “decontaminated” hESC-derived tissue stem cells may eventually be used to treat human tissue degenerative diseases. These reagents could also be used to isolate the same cells from somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)-derived pluripotent stem cell lines from patients with genetic diseases. This procedure would enable us to analyze the effects of the genetic abnormalities on blood stem and progenitor cells in patients with genetic blood and immune system disorders, and on heart stem and progenitor cells in patients with heart disorders. The antibodies and stem cells (hESCs, tissue regenerating, etc) that will be isolated from patients with specific diseases will be invaluable tools that can be used to create model(s) for understanding the diseases and their progression. In addition, the antibodies and the stem cells generated in these studies are entities that could be patented or protected by copyright, forming an intellectual property portfolio shared by the state and the state institutions wherein the research was carried out. The funds generated from the licensing of these technologies will help pay back the state, will help support increasing faculty and staff (many of whom bring in other, out of state funds for their research), and could be used to ameliorate the costs of clinical trials. Only California businesses are likely to be able to license these antibodies and cells, to develop them into diagnostic and therapeutic entities; such businesses are the heart of the CIRM strategy to enhance the California economy. Most importantly, however, is that this research will lead to tissue stem cell therapies. Such therapies will address chronic diseases that cause considerable disability and misery, currently have no cure, and therefore lead to huge medical expenses. Because tissue stem cells renew themselves for life, stem cell therapies are one-time therapies with curative intent. We expect that California hospitals and health care entities will be first in line for trials and therapies, and for CIRM to negotiate discounts on such therapies for California taxpayers, thus California will benefit both economically and with advanced novel medical care.
The objectives of our proposal are the isolations of blood-forming and heart-forming stem cells from human embryonic stem cell (hESCs) cultures, and the generation of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that eliminate residual teratogenic cells from transplantable populations of differentiated hESCs. For isolation of progenitors, we hypothesized that precursors derived from hESCs could be identified and isolated using mAbs that label unique combinations of lineage-specific cell surface molecules. We used hundreds of defined mAbs, generated hundreds of novel anti-hESC mAbs, and used these to isolate and characterize dozens of hESC-derived populations. We discovered four precursor types from early stages of differentiating cells, each expressing genes indicative of commitment to either embryonic or extraembryonic tissues. Together, these progenitors are candidates to give rise to meso-endodermal lineages (heart, blood, pancreas, etc), and yolk sac, umbilical cord and placental tissues, respectively. Importantly, we have found that cells of the meso-endodermal population give rise to beating cardiomyocytes. We are currently enriching cardiomyocyte precursors from this population using cardiac-specific genetic markers, and are assaying the putative progenitors using electrophysiological assays and by transplantation into animal hearts (a test for restoration of heart function). In addition, we established in vitro conditions that effectively promote hESC-differentiation towards the hematopoietic (blood) lineages and isolated populations that resemble hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in both surface phenotype as well as lineage potentials, as determined by assays in vitro. We have generated hESC-lines that express the anti-apoptotic gene BCL2, and have found that these cells produce significantly greater amounts of hematopoietic and cardiac cells, because of their increased survival during culturing and sorting. We are currently isolating hematopoietic precursors from BCL2-hESCs and will test their ability to engraft in immunodeficient mice, to examine the capacity of hESC-derived HSCs to regenerate the blood system. Finally, we have utilized the novel mAbs that we prepared against undifferentiated hESCs, to deplete residual teratogenic cells from differentiated cultures that were transplanted into animal models. We discovered that following depletion teratoma rarely formed, and we expect to determine a final cocktail of mAbs for removal of teratogenic cells from transplantation products this year.
The main objective of our proposal is to isolate therapeutic stem cells and progenitors from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that give rise to blood and heart cells. Our approach involves isolation of differentiated precursor subset of cells using monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and cell sorting instruments, and subsequent characterization of their respective hematopoietic and cardiomyogenic potential in culture as well as following engraftment into mouse models of disease. In addition, we aim to develop mAbs that specifically bind to undifferentiated hESCs for removal of residual teratoma-initiating cells from therapeutic cell preparations, to ensure transplantation safety.
We have made substantial advancement towards achieving these goals. First, we discovered that the initial differentiation of hESCs occurs through only 4-5 different progenitor types, of which one is destined to give rise to heart lineages. We purified this population using three novel cell surface markers, and found a significant enrichment of cardiomyocyte clones in colony formation assays that we developed. This subset also expressed particularly high levels of cardiac genes and was receptive to further differentiation into beating cardiomyocytes or vascular endothelial cells. When transplanted into immunodeficient mice these progenitors differentiated into ventricular myocytes and vascular endothelial cells. In the coming year we will perform transplantation experiments to evaluate whether they improve the functional outcome of heart infarction in hearts of mice. Second, we have optimized cell culture conditions and cell surface markers to sort hematopoietic progenitors derived from hESCs. We have also begun to transplant these populations into immunodeficient mouse recipients to identify blood-reconstituting hematopoietic populations. Third, we identified 5 commercial and 1 custom mAbs that are specific to human pluripotent cells (hESCs and induced pluripotent cells). We are currently testing the capacity of combinations of 3 pluripotency surface markers to remove all teratoma-initiating cells from transplanted differentiated cell populations. In summary, we expect provide functional validation of the blood and heart precursor populations that we identified from hESCs by the end term of this grant.
The main objective of our proposal is to isolate therapeutic stem and progenitor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that can give rise to blood and heart cells. Our approach involves developing differentiation protocols to drive hematopoietic (blood) and cardiac (heart) development of hESCs, then to identify and isolate stem/progenitor cells using monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) specific to surface markers expressed on blood and heart stem/progenitor cells, and finally to characterize their functional properties in vitro and in vivo. In addition, we sought to develop mAbs that specifically bind to undifferentiated hESCs for removal of residual teratoma (tumor)-initiating cells from therapeutic preparations, to ensure transplantation safety.
We have made substantial progress toward achieving these goals. First, we discovered that the initial differentiation of hESCs occurs through only 4-5 different progenitor types, of which one is destined to give rise to heart lineages. We purified this population using four novel cell surface markers (ROR2, PDGFRα, KDR, and CD13), and found a significant enrichment of cardiomyocyte clones in colony formation assays that we developed. This subset also expressed particularly high levels of cardiac genes and was receptive to further differentiation into beating cardiomyocytes or vascular endothelial cells. When transplanted into immunodeficient mice these progenitors differentiated into ventricular myocytes and vascular endothelial cells. We have also successfully developed a human fetal heart xenograft model to test hESC-derived cardiomyocyte stem/progenitor cells in human heart tissue for engraftment and function.
Second, we have optimized cell culture conditions and cell surface markers to sort hematopoietic progenitors derived from hESCs. In doing so, we have mapped the earliest stages of hematopoietic specification and commitment from a bipotent hematoendothelial precursor. Our culture conditions drive robust hematopoietic differentiation in vitro but these hESC-derived hematopoietic progenitors do not achieve hematopoietic engraftment when transplanted in mouse models. Furthermore, we overexpressed the anti-apoptotic protein BCL2 in hESCs, and discovered a significant improvement in viability upon single cell sorting, embryoid body formation, and in cultures lacking serum replacement. Moving forward, we feel the survival advantages exhibited by this BCL2-expressing hESC line will improve our chances of engrafting hESC-derived hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells.
Third, we identified a cocktail of 5 commercial and 1 novel mAbs that enable specific identification of human pluripotent cells (hESCs and induced pluripotent cells). We have found combinations of 3 pluripotency surface markers that can remove all teratoma-initiating cells from differentiated hESC and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) populations prior to transplant. While these combinations can vary depending on the differentiation culture, we have generated a simple, easy-to-follow protocol to remove all teratogenic cells from large-scale differentiation cultures.
In summary, we accomplished most of the goals stated in our original proposal. We successfully achieved cardiac engraftment of an hESC-derived cardiomyocyte progenitor using a novel human heart model of engraftment. While we unfortunately did not attain hematopoietic engraftment of hESC-derived cells, we are exploring a strategy to address this. Our research has led to four manuscripts: one on the protective effects of BCL2 expression on hESC viability and pluripotency (published in PNAS, 2011), another describing markers of pluripotency and their use in depleting teratogenic potential in differentiated PSCs (accepted for publication in Nature Biotechnology), and two submitted manuscripts, one describing a novel xenograft assay to test PSC-derived cardiomyocytes for functional engraftment and the other describing the earliest fate decisions downstream of a PSC.