The main objective of our proposal is to isolate therapeutic stem cells and progenitors from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that give rise to blood and heart cells. Our approach involves isolation of differentiated precursor subset of cells using monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and cell sorting instruments, and subsequent characterization of their respective hematopoietic and cardiomyogenic potential in culture as well as following engraftment into mouse models of disease. In addition, we aim to develop mAbs that specifically bind to undifferentiated hESCs for removal of residual teratoma-initiating cells from therapeutic cell preparations, to ensure transplantation safety.
We have made substantial advancement towards achieving these goals. First, we discovered that the initial differentiation of hESCs occurs through only 4-5 different progenitor types, of which one is destined to give rise to heart lineages. We purified this population using three novel cell surface markers, and found a significant enrichment of cardiomyocyte clones in colony formation assays that we developed. This subset also expressed particularly high levels of cardiac genes and was receptive to further differentiation into beating cardiomyocytes or vascular endothelial cells. When transplanted into immunodeficient mice these progenitors differentiated into ventricular myocytes and vascular endothelial cells. In the coming year we will perform transplantation experiments to evaluate whether they improve the functional outcome of heart infarction in hearts of mice. Second, we have optimized cell culture conditions and cell surface markers to sort hematopoietic progenitors derived from hESCs. We have also begun to transplant these populations into immunodeficient mouse recipients to identify blood-reconstituting hematopoietic populations. Third, we identified 5 commercial and 1 custom mAbs that are specific to human pluripotent cells (hESCs and induced pluripotent cells). We are currently testing the capacity of combinations of 3 pluripotency surface markers to remove all teratoma-initiating cells from transplanted differentiated cell populations. In summary, we expect provide functional validation of the blood and heart precursor populations that we identified from hESCs by the end term of this grant.