Year 2

The goals of this proposal are to investigate endodermal differentiation and proliferation of human ES cells in culture. Endodermal differentiation is a necessary step towards making pancreatic beta cells, as well as other endodermal cells such as liver cells. Pancreatic beta cells generated from human ES cells could be used to treat type I diabetics. In the past two years, we have incorporated human ES cell culture technology into our laboratory and have been able to replicate data obtained by other research groups. While several other research groups and companies around the world are focused on making pancreatic beta cells as quickly as possible, we strongly believe that a more detailed understanding of the biology of human ES cell differentiation into endoderm will help the optimization of this protocol. Therefore, we have focused our efforts on testing a number of variables in the initial step of creating definitive endoderm. We have found that different human ES cell lines have very different capacity to differentiate into endoderm under the same culture conditions. In addition, we have recently focused our research effort on the post-translational modifications of key regulators of endoderm differentiation, and found a critical role for a poorly appreciated modification, namely a sugar modification called GlcNAcylation. In summary, developing a reproducible and efficient way to differentiate human ES cells into endoderm, as well as a thorough understanding of this key step, will allow us and others to elucidate the detailed set of molecular and biochemical events underlying this critical differentiation step, and will improve differentiation protocols.