Age-related diseases of the nervous system are major challenges for biomedicine in the 21st century. These disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, cause loss of neural tissue and functional impairment. Currently, there is no cure for these devastating neurological disorders. A promising approach to the treatment of age-related neurological disorders is cell therapy, i.e., transplantation of nerve cells into the brain or spinal cord to replace lost cells and restore function. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) offer a potentially unlimited source of any cell type that may be required for cell replacement therapy, due to their remarkable ability to self-renew (they can divide indefinitely in culture) and to develop into any cell type in the body.
Funded by CIRM, we have built out approximately 3400 square feet of shared laboratory space within our existing research facility for hESC research, as well as approximately 2400 square feet for classroom facilities dedicated to training in hESC culture and manipulation. In the past year, the facility has supported over a dozen regional investigators seeking expertise in ESC/iPSC techniques. The Shared Lab maintains an average of 10 hESC and/or iPSC lines for investigators both inside and outside the Buck Institute. The facility also routinely generates neural stem cells (NSCs) from both the hESC and iPSC lines and the NSC lines have been used by many of the investigators for differentiation studies. In addition, the Shared Lab has created several genetically modified hESC lines (e.g., GFP-labeled cells) and developed techniques for efficient transfection of hESCs and their differentiated derivatives. These lines and techniques are made available for all investigators and have been used by several of them for studies of aging-related process.
Before a hESC-based therapy can be developed, it is essential to train scientists to efficiently grow, maintain and manipulate these cells. We have taught two types of hands-on training courses in the past year with more than 30 scientists across California participated: a basic 5-day hESC culture course and an advanced 5-day hESC culture course, to meet the diverse needs of California scientists. These courses provided scientists with an understanding of hESC biology and enabled them to set up and conduct hESC research after completion of training.