In the first year of this Early Translation Award for traumatic brain injury (TBI), our goal was to develop the stem cells lines necessary to begin testing of stem cells in an animal model of TBI in year 2. If we are fortunate to demonstrate that the stem cell products are effective in animal models of TBI, these cells will need to be grown in a way that is acceptable to the FDA for future use in man. Xenofree means that the cells are not exposed to possible animal product contaminants (e.g. serum or blood products) and that every component that the cells were exposed to is chemically defined and can be traced to the original source.
First, we obtained three separate embryonic stem (ES) cell lines from Sheffield, UK and imported them to the United States. These lines where then thawed and grown in “xenofree” cell culture conditions. Many labs have had difficulty transitioning human ES cells to xenofree conditions without introducing genetic defects in the cell lines or killing the cells. We were able to work out the correct conditions for all three ES cell lines to be grown xenofree. We were also successful in converting two of the three ES lines into neural stem cells (the subtype of stem cell needed for transplanting into brain tissue). These neural stem cells (NSCs) were further purified by labeling them for a stem cell surface marker present on NSCs (called CD133) and then magnetically sorting out just the CD133 positive cells and continuing to grow them. This approach is thought to enrich the stem cell population for NSCs and eliminate any remaining non-differentiated ES cells (which have an added risk of forming tumors if injected into animals or man). We successfully “sorted” both Shef cell lines and we now have four candidate populations of sorted and unsorted Shef4 and Shef6 cells. We grew these cells in culture and tested whether they differentiated into neuronal precursor or glial precursor cells. Quantification of the type of cells they turn into after 2 weeks showed that the four cell populations were different. These differences were even more apparent when looking at the cells in a microscope. At the end of year one, we have four different populations of neural stem cells which are growing in defined xenofree conditions, are frozen down in master cell banks, and which are genetically normal. There are sufficient quantities of these human neural stem cells (hNSC) to complete the remaining aims of the ETA grant over the remaining two years.
In the first year we also trained staff in the surgical procedures required to produce controlled cortical impact injuries in Athymic nude rats (ATNs), a type of rat that has no immune system. These procedures were necessary because no one has ever used ATN rats to model TBI. Our goal in year two is to transplant hNSCs into rats with TBI. If the rats had a normal immune system, their bodies would detect the foreign human cells and reject them. Also, because no one has ever tested TBI in ATN rats, we needed to find out if ATN rats respond like regular rats to the injury and if they have similar, predictable deficits on the cognitive tasks we plan to use in year 2 to measure whether hNCSs improve the animal’s recovery or not. This training and these pilot tests in ATN rats were completed successfully. Finally, the hypothesis is that by “sorting” the hNSCs to be CD133 positive, we are making the stem cell population safer for transplantation. This will be tested in year 2 using a tumorigenicity assay. We worked out how to conduct these assays in year 1 using a population of ES cells known to cause tumors so that we will have a positive control to compare the hNSCs to in year 2.
In summary, we met all of our goals and milestones for year 1 and are poised to make good progress in year 2.