Year 1

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.