The successful transplantation of blood forming stem cells from one person to another can alter the recipient immune system in profound ways. The transplanted blood forming cells can condition the recipient to accept organs from the original stem cell donor without the need for drugs to suppress their immune system; and such transplantations can be curative of autoimmune diseases such as childhood diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Modification of the immune system in these ways is called immune tolerance induction.
Unfortunately, the current practice of blood stem cell transplantation is associated with serious risks, including risk of death in 10-20% of recipients. It has been a long-standing goal of investigators in this field to make transplantations safer so that patients that must undergo this procedure have better outcomes, and so that patients who need an organ graft or that suffer from an autoimmune disorder can be effectively treated by this powerful form of cellular therapy. The major objectives of our proposal are to achieve this goal by developing methods to prepare patients to accept blood forming stem cell grafts with reagents that specifically target cell populations in recipients that constitute the barriers to engraftment, and to transplant only purified blood forming stem cells thereby avoiding the potentially lethal complication call graft-vs-host disease.
The proposal has four Specific Aims. Aims 1 and 2 focus on development of biologic agents that specifically target recipient barrier cells. Aims 3 and 4 propose to test the reagents and approaches developed in the first two aims in mouse models to induce tolerance to co-transplanted tissues and to cure animals with Type 1 diabetes mellitus or multiple sclerosis. These aims have not changed in this reporting period.
One parameter of success in this project is the development of one or more biologic reagents that can replace toxic radiation and chemotherapy that can be used in human clinical trials by the end of the third year of funding (Aim 2). In this regard, significant progress has been made in the last year. A reagent critical to the success of donor blood forming stem cell engraftment is one that targets and eliminates the stem cells that already reside in the recipients. Recipient blood stem cells block the ability of donor stem cells to take. In our prior mouse studies we determined that a protein (antibody) that specifically targets a molecule on the surface of blood forming stem cells called CD117 is capable of eliminating recipient blood stem cells thus opening up special niches and allowing donor stem cells to engraft. This antibody was highly effective in permitting engraftment of purified donor blood stem cells in mice that lack a functional immune system. In this application we proposed to develop and test reagents that could target and eliminate human blood forming stem cells by targeting human CD117. This year we have identified and tested such an antibody which is manufactured by a third party. This anti-CD117 antibody has been evaluated in early clinical trials for an indication separate from our proposed use and appears to be non-toxic. In mice that we generated to house a human blood system, the antibody was capable eliminating the human blood forming stem cells. We plan to pursue the use of this reagent in a clinical trial as a non-toxic way to prepare children with a disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) for transplantation. Without a transplant children with SCID will die. The use of the anti-CD117 antibody and transplantation of purified blood forming stem cells has the potential to significantly reduce the complications of such transplants and improve the outcomes for these patients. The trial will be the first step to using this form of targeted therapy and serve as a pioneering study for all indications for which a blood forming stem cell transplant is needed, including the induction of immune tolerance.