The central goal of this project is to develop enhanced vehicles for gene delivery to human embryonic stem cells, both to modulate gene expression and to edit the cellular genome via homologous recombination. Harnessing a novel directed evolution technology we have developed to improve the properties of a promising viral vehicle, we have significantly increased its gene delivery efficiency to human embryonic and human induced pluripotent stem cells. Furthermore, this advance resulted in considerable improvements in the efficiency of gene targeting (i.e. editing) in the genomes of these cells.
In parallel, we have a strong interest in understanding and elucidating mechanisms of luripotent stem cell differentiation into neurons, with for example implications for Parkinson’s Disease. In particular, the transcription factor Lmx1a plays a role in this fate specification, but the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. We attempted chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled with next generation DNA sequencing to identify the genes in the cellular genome that this factor regulates. Progress in this objective was ultimately hampered by the lack of a suitable antibody against Lmx1a. However, in parallel we have used an analogous approach to investigate mechanisms by which RNA transcription is regulated during the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into neurons, including motor neurons. These basic results can now be applied to enhance the efficiency of neuronal differentiation.