Blood Disorders

Coding Dimension ID: 
278
Coding Dimension path name: 
Blood Disorders

Maternal and Fetal Immune Responses to In Utero Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation

Funding Type: 
Transplantation Immunology
Grant Number: 
RM1-01718
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 324 229
Disease Focus: 
Pediatrics
Immune Disease
Blood Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Other
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The immune system is the body’s defense system against disease and can recognize foreign cells. Because of this, stem cells and organs that are transplanted from one person to another are usually “rejected” by the immune system, forcing doctors to use powerful immune suppressive drugs with severe side effects. This natural defense system will therefore limit our ability to use stem cell therapies until we develop better solutions to prevent rejection (“induce tolerance”). We are developing a unique solution to this problem: if we transplant cells in utero, before the immune system is fully developed, we can educate the fetus to tolerate the foreign cells and avoid rejection without using any drugs. This strategy could be useful for many inherited stem cell disorders such as sickle cell disease, thalassemias, and muscular dystrophy. In addition, if tolerance to a particular donor is established, it may be used to transplant an organ (eg. kidney) from the same donor for other congenital anomalies. Many of these diseases can be diagnosed early in pregnancy and the surgical expertise for performing the transplants safely already exists. Although this strategy has been successful in animal models, cells transplanted in utero have mostly been rejected and we have been doing research to improve these results. Our lab has recently made the important discovery that the mother’s immune system is also responsible for rejection: we believe that cells from the mother help the immature fetal immune system develop faster and facilitate rejection of the transplanted cells. In this proposal, we will study this idea in both an animal model and in patients who have fetal surgery for other diseases. We will examine whether surgery leads to changes in the mother and fetus which prompt rejection of the transplanted cells. The strategy of treating stem cell disorders in utero to avoid rejection has a high likelihood of success and our team is uniquely qualified to perform a clinical trial of in utero stem cell transplantation once we have evidence of safety and efficacy in animal models. The experiments in this proposal will give us important information to design innovative treatments for common, currently incurable stem cell disorders.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The long term goal of our team is to develop strategies for safe and effective stem cell transplants to cure fetuses with congenital stem cell disorders. Many common diseases can be diagnosed early in pregnancy and may potentially be treated with in utero stem cell transplantation. For example, blood stem cells may be used to treat sickle cell disease and thalassemias. Muscle stem cells may be used to treat muscular dystrophies and liver stem cells may be used to treat metabolic disorders. Furthermore, transplantation of blood stem cells may be used to develop tolerance to a particular donor so that organs can be transplanted without immunosupression. Recent progress in our understanding of immune interactions between the mother and fetus has brought us closer to realizing this goal. Congenital stem cell disorders are common and affect many patients in California. For example, hemoglobin disorders are so common that they are routinely screened in all babies (and prenatal diagnosis can be done if there is a family history): each year, 2000 children are born with sickle cell disease in the United States, 150 children in California alone (www.scdfc.org). Thalassemias are found more commonly in persons of Mediterranean or Asian descent and are therefore prevalent in our state’s population. Muscular dystrophy affects 1/3500 births and currently has no cure while inborn errors of metabolism affect 1/4000. Given that more than 500,000 children are born each year in California, the potential to make a difference is enormous. Furthermore, our studies will improve our knowledge about the uniquely tolerant state of the fetus and may allow us to then design treatments to improve tolerance in adult patients. in utero surgery was born in California and is performed in only select centers in the country. Therefore, once we have developed safe and effective therapies for stem cell disorders, we also expect increased referrals of such patients to California. The convergence of our expertise in fetal therapies with those in stem cell biology carries great promise for finally realizing the promise of in utero stem cell transplantation.
Progress Report: 
  • We are working on developing better treatments for patients with genetic stem cell disorders. Our strategy is to treat fetuses before birth with stem cell transplantation in order to induce tolerance to the foreign transplanted cells and avoid immunosuppression. We have noted that the mother’s immune system is involved in rejecting the cells that are transplanted into the fetus and are now studying how the fetal immune system responds to the transplant. This year, we learned that the fetal immune system becomes aware of the transplanted cells as early as 2 weeks after the transplant. However, T cells that would react to the transplant are also deleted, which is one way that the fetus learns to tolerate the foreign cells. We are also analyzing immune development in human patients who undergo fetal surgery. In our analysis of human patients, we learned that open fetal surgery increases the amount of maternal cells that have trafficked into the fetus. We are now studying whether the fetus becomes sensitized or tolerant to these maternal cells after surgery.
  • We are working on developing better treatments for patients with genetic stem cell disorders. Our strategy is to treat fetuses before birth with stem cell transplantation in order to induce tolerance to the foreign transplanted cells and avoid immunosuppression. We have noted that the mother’s immune system is involved in rejecting the cells that are transplanted into the fetus. We are now studying how the fetal immune system responds to the transplant. This year, we learned that, although the fetal immune system becomes tolerant to the transplanted cells by deleting T cells, it does not become tolerant by making regulatory T cells, which would be a more robust mechanism of tolerance. Therefore, the strategy of adding in more regulatory T cells may boost tolerance. We are also analyzing immune development in human patients who undergo fetal surgery. We have refined our assays to include the most relevant pathway by which maternal T cells recognize the foreign fetus and have found that, in addition to maternal T cells recognizing the fetus, fetal T cells are also capable of recognizing the mother. We are now understanding whether this recognition is enhanced after fetal surgery, which would indicate sensitization and possible rejection.
  • Our lab studies in utero hematopoietic stem cell transplantation as a way novel strategy to treat fetuses with congenital stem cell disorders. This method can potentially allow us to transplant genetically foreign stem cells without rejection by the immune system. In our previous experiments, we have determined that the mother's immune system can be a barrier to success but the fetal immune system does not reject the transplanted cells. In these experiments, we first used a mouse model and performed a detailed analysis of the fetal host immune response to transplantation to understand why rejection does not occur. We also analyzed human maternal and cord blood samples to understand human fetal immune maturation, to determine whether clinical applications will involve any immune response from the fetus or the mother. Our results are an exciting preclinical platform for considering in utero transplantation for fetuses with disorders such as hemoglobinopathies.
  • We are working on developing better treatments for patients with genetic stem cell disorders. Our strategy is to treat fetuses before birth with stem cell transplantation in order to induce tolerance to the foreign transplanted cells and avoid immunosuppression. We have noted that the mother’s immune system is involved in rejecting the cells that are transplanted into the fetus and are now studying how the fetal immune system responds to the transplant. We have also examined whether the fetus becomes sensitized or tolerant to these maternal cells after surgery and have made the surprising discovery that the fetal immune system also becomes activated after pregnancy complications.

A Treatment For Beta-thalassemia via High-Efficiency Targeted Genome Editing of Hematopoietic Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Strategic Partnership II
Grant Number: 
SP2-06902
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$6 374 150
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
β-thalassemia is a genetic disease caused by diverse mutations of the β-globin gene that lead to profoundly reduced red blood cell (RBC) development. The unmet medical need in transfusion-dependent β-thalassemia is significant, with life expectancy of only ~30-50 years despite standard of care treatment of chronic blood transfusions and iron chelation therapy. Cardiomyopathy due to iron overload is the major cause of mortality, but iron-overload induced multiorgan dysfunction, blood-borne infections, and other disease complications impose a significant physical, psychosocial and economic impact on patients and families. An allogeneic bone marrow transplant (BMT) is curative. However, this therapy is limited due to the scarcity of HLA-matched related donors (<20%) combined with the significant risk of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) after successful transplantation of allogeneic cells. During infancy, gamma-globin-containing fetal hemoglobin protects β-thalassemia patients from developing disease symptoms until gamma globin is replaced by adult-type β-globin chains. The proposed therapeutic intervention combines the benefits of re-activating the gamma globin gene with the curative potential of BMT, but without the toxicities associated with acute and chronic immunosuppression and GvHD. We hypothesize that harvesting hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) from a patient with β-thalassemia, using genome editing to permanently re-activate the gamma globin gene, and returning these edited HSPCs to the patient could provide transfusion independence or greatly reduce the need for chronic blood transfusions, thus decreasing the morbidity and mortality associated with iron overload. The use of a patient’s own cells avoids the need for acute and chronic immunosuppression, as there would be no risk of GvHD. Moreover, due to the self-renewing capacity of HSPCs, we anticipate a lifelong correction of this severe monogenic disease.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Our proposed treatment for transfusion dependent β-thalassemia will benefit patients in the state by offering them a significant improvement over current standard of care. β-thalassemia is a genetic disease caused by diverse mutations of the β-globin gene that lead to profoundly reduced red blood cell (RBC) development and survival resulting in the need for chronic lifelong blood transfusions, iron chelation therapy, and important pathological sequelae (e.g., endocrinopathies, cardiomyopathies, multiorgan dysfunction, bloodborne infections, and psychosocial/economic impact). Incidence is estimated at 1 in 100,000 in the US, but is more common in the state of California (incidence estimated at 1 in 55,000 births) due to immigration patterns within the State. While there are estimated to be about 1,000-2,000 β-thalassemia patients in the US, one of our proposed clinical trial sites has the largest thalassemia program in the Western United States, with a population approaching 300 patients. Thus, the state of California stands to benefit disproportionately compared to other states from our proposed treatment for transfusion dependent β-thalassemia. An allogeneic bone marrow transplant (BMT) is curative for β-thalassemia, but limited by the scarcity of HLA-matched related donors (<20%) combined with the significant risk of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) after successful transplantation of allogeneic cells. Our approach is to genetically engineer the patient’s own stem cells and thus (i) solve the logistical challenge of finding an appropriate donor, as the patient now becomes his/her own donor; and (ii) make use of autologous cells abrogating the risk of GvHD and need for acute and chronic immunosuppression. Our approach offers a compelling pharmacoeconomic benefit to the State of California and its citizens. A lifetime of chronic blood transfusions and iron chelation therapy leads to a significant cost burden; despite this, the prognosis for a transfusion dependent β-thalassemia patient is still dire, with life expectancy of only ~30-50 years. Our proposed one-time treatment aims to reduce or eliminate the need for costly chronic blood transfusions and iron chelation therapy, while potentially improving the clinical benefit to patients, including the morbidity and mortality associated with transfusion-induced iron overload.
Progress Report: 
  • Summary of progress
  • Our CIRM-funded effort aims to develop a treatment for beta-thalassemia. Beta-thalassemia is an inherited genetic disorder that is caused by mutations (changes in the DNA) in a gene called beta-globin. This gene produces a protein that forms hemoglobin in red blood cells that carry oxygen to through the body. In an individual with beta-thalassemia, beta-globin is not produced (or is made in dramatically reduced quantities), and so the person does not make enough healthy red blood cells. The treatment, which is essential for life in these patients, is repeated blood transfusions (typically once a month or more frequently). The transfusion of blood this frequently results in a dangerous condition called “iron overload,” which must be treated with costly drugs. In general, the quality of life of many people with beta-thalassemia is poor.
  • At present, there is only one cure, and that is to carry out a bone marrow transplant. This involves taking special cells from a healthy person called “hematopoietic stem cells” that give rise to blood cells for the whole of a person's life, and giving them to the patient so that they that they are now able to make healthy red blood cells for their lifetime. However, the cell donor must be an immunologic match to the patient and for many people with beta-thalassemia, such donors are not available.
  • Our approach to treating beta-thalassemia aims to genetically engineer a person’s hematopoietic stem cells (change the DNA inside the cell) to allow them to make healthy red blood cells using a technology that we have developed called "zinc finger nucleases,” or ZFNs. We plan to obtain stem cells from a beta-thalassemia patient, genetically engineer them by transiently exposing them to ZFNs, and then transplant them back into the same individual, making the patient their own donor. The genetic engineering is designed to replicate a situation observed in certain people with beta-thalassemia who have milder symptoms than others. Such patients have a much higher than average level of a “backup” form of beta-globin, called fetal globin, in their blood.
  • All people make fetal globin while in utero and after birth, but in infancy the levels of fetal globin decrease and the child begins to make adult beta-globin. It is at this stage that the symptoms of beta-thalassemia become evident. However, if person with beta-thalassemia has high level of fetal globin, they will be spared the severe effects of the disease.
  • We know that certain individuals who have an elevated level of fetal globin do so because they have a less active form of a gene called BCL11A that normally shuts down the production of fetal globin during infancy. Making use of this observation, our approach is to knock out BCL11A in a patient’s own stem cells, transplant them back into the patient to allow the production of fetal hemoglobin and, as a consequence, increase production of healthy red blood cells.
  • In order to test drugs in humans investigators must consult with the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and ultimately submit data about the investigational drug to various regulatory bodies including the FDA as part of Investigational New Drug (IND) application. This past year, we held a meeting with the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research of the FDA known as a “pre-IND” and received useful guidance on issues that we should address in preparing the IND filing. We also presented our program to the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee of the NIH (RAC); our proposed preclinical safety assessment program and plan for the phase I clinical trial received unanimous approval from the RAC.
  • Our work this year focused on two major deliverables that are necessary to achieve the goal of beginning a clinical trial of our approach. The first one relates to our ability to purify and efficiently genetically engineer a sufficient quantity of stem cells from a patient with beta-thalassemia. Working with healthy volunteers, and in a setting that is identical to the one we plan to use during our clinical trial, we have been able to consistently obtain sufficient quantities of hematopoietic stem cells to treat an individual with beta-thalassemia, and attain high levels of targeted genetic engineering in those cells.
  • As part of a preclinical safety assessment program, we have initiated and completed a series of studies to determine whether the genetic engineering we perform has any unforeseen untoward consequences in the cell. When we have completed this effort, we aim to file the IND application with the FDA before the end of the year and, pending FDA acceptance, initiate the phase 1 clinical trial in 2015.

Antibody tools to deplete or isolate teratogenic, cardiac, and blood stem cells from hESCs

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies II
Grant Number: 
RT2-02060
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 869 487
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Heart Disease
Liver Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Purity is as important for cell-based therapies as it is for treatments based on small-molecule drugs or biologics. Pluripotent stem cells possess two properties: they are capable of self regeneration and they can differentiate to all different tissue types (i.e. muscle, brain, heart, etc.). Despite the promise of pluripotent stem cells as a tool for regenerative medicine, these cells cannot be directly transplanted into patients. In their undifferentiated state they harbor the potential to develop into tumors. Thus, tissue-specific stem cells as they exist in the body or as derived from pluripotent cells are the true targets of stem cell-based therapeutic research, and the cell types most likely to be used clinically. Existing protocols for the generation of these target cells involve large scale differentiation cultures of pluripotent cells that often produce a mixture of different cell types, only a small fraction of which may possess therapeutic potential. Furthermore, there remains the real danger that a small number of these cells remains undifferentiated and retains tumor-forming potential. The ideal pluripotent stem cell-based therapeutic would be a pure population of tissue specific stem cells, devoid of impurities such as undifferentiated or aberrantly-differentiated cells. We propose to develop antibody-based tools and protocols to purify therapeutic stem cells from heterogeneous cultures. We offer two general strategies to achieve this goal. The first is to develop antibodies and protocols to identify undifferentiated tumor-forming cells and remove them from cultures. The second strategy is to develop antibodies that can identify and isolate heart stem cells, and blood-forming stem cells capable of engraftment from cultures of pluripotent stem cells. The biological underpinning of our approach is that each cell type can be identified by a signature surface marker expression profile. Antibodies that are specific to cell surface markers can be used to identify and isolate stem cells using flow cytometry. We can detect and isolate rare tissue stem cells by using combinations of antibodies that correspond to the surface marker signature for the given tissue stem cell. We can then functionally characterize the potential of these cells for use in regenerative medicine. Our proposal aims to speed the clinical application of therapies derived from pluripotent cell products by reducing the risk of transplanting the wrong cell type - whether it is a tumor-causing residual pluripotent cell or a cell that is not native to the site of transplant - into patients. Antibodies, which exhibit exquisitely high sensitivity and specificity to target cellular populations, are the cornerstone of our proposal. The antibodies (and other technologies and reagents) identified and generated as a result of our experiments will greatly increase the safety of pluripotent stem cell-derived cellular therapies.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Starting with human embryonic stem cells (hESC), which are capable of generating all cell types in the body, we aim to identify and isolate two tissue-specific stem cells – those that can make the heart and the blood – and remove cells that could cause tumors. Heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the West. In California, 70,000 people die annually from cardiovascular diseases, and the cost exceeded $48 billion in 2006. Despite major advancement in treatments for patients with heart failure, which is mainly due to cellular loss upon myocardial injury, the mortality rate remains high. Similarly, diseases of the blood-forming system, e.g. leukemias, remain a major health problem in our state. hESC and induced pluripotent stem cells (collectively, pluripotent stem cells, or PSC) could provide an attractive therapeutic option to treat patients with damaged or defective organs. PCS can differentiate into, and may represent a major source of regenerating, cells for these organs. However, the major issues that delay the clinical translation of PSC derivatives include lack of purification technologies for heart- or blood-specific stem cells from PSC cultures and persistence of pluripotent cells that develop into teratomas. We propose to develop reagents that can prospectively identify and isolate heart and blood stem cells, and to test their functional benefit upon engraftment in mice. We will develop reagents to identify and remove residual PSC, which give rise to teratomas. These reagents will enable us to purify patient-specific stem cells, which lack cancer-initiating potential, to replenish defective or damaged tissue. The reagents generated in these studies can be patented forming an intellectual property portfolio shared by the state and the institutions where the research is carried out. The funds generated from the licensing of these technologies will provide revenue for the state, will help increase hiring of faculty and staff (many of whom will bring in other, out-of-state funds to support their research) and could be used to ameliorate the costs of clinical trials – the final step in translation of basic science research to clinical use. Only California businesses are likely to be able to license these reagents and to develop them into diagnostic and therapeutic entities; such businesses are at the heart of the CIRM strategy to enhance the California economy. Most importantly, this research will set the platform for future stem cell-based therapies. Because tissue stem cells are capable of lifelong self-renewal, stem cell therapies have the potential to be a single, curative treatment. Such therapies will address chronic diseases with no cure that cause considerable disability, leading to substantial medical expense. We expect that California hospitals and health care entities will be first in line for trials and therapies. Thus, California will benefit economically and it will help advance novel medical care.
Progress Report: 
  • Our program is focused on improving methods that can be used to purify stem cells so that they can be used safely and effectively for therapy. A significant limitation in translating laboratory discoveries into clinical practice remains our inability to separate specific stem cells that generate one type of desired tissue from a mixture of ‘pluripotent’ stem cells, which generate various types of tissue. An ideal transplant would then consist of only tissue-specific stem cells that retain a robust regenerative potential. Pluripotent cells, on the other hand, pose the risk, when transplanted, of generating normal tissue in the wrong location, abnormal tissue, or cancer. Thus, we have concentrated our efforts to devise strategies to either make pluripotent cells develop into desired tissue-specific stem cells or to separate these desired cells from a mixture of many types of cells.
  • Our approach to separating tissue-specific stem cells from mixed cultures is based on the theory that every type of cell has a very specific set of molecules on its surface that can act as a signature. Once this signature is known, antibodies (molecules that specifically bind to these surface markers) can be used to tag all the cells of a desired type and remove them from a mixed population. To improve stem cell therapy, our aim is to identify the signature markers on: (1) the stem cells that are pluripotent or especially likely to generate tumors; and (2) the tissue-specific stem cells. By then developing antibodies to the pluripotent or tumor-causing cells, we can exclude them from a group of cells to be transplanted. By developing antibodies to the tissue-specific stem cells, we can remove them from a mixture to select them for transplantation. For the second approach, we are particularly interested in targeting stem cells that develop into heart (cardiac) tissue and cells that develop into mature blood cells. As we develop ways to isolate the desired cells, we test them by transplanting them into animals and observing how they grow.
  • Thus, the first goal of our program is to develop tools to isolate pluripotent stem cells, especially those that can generate tumors in transplant recipients. To this end, we tested an antibody aimed at a pluripotent cell marker (stage-specific embryonic antigen-5 [SSEA-5]) that we previously identified. We transplanted into animals a population of stem cells that either had the SSEA-5-expressing cells removed or did not have them removed. The animals that received the transplants lacking the SSEA-5-expressing cells developed smaller and fewer teratomas (tumors consisting of an abnormal mixture of many tissues). Approaching the problem from another angle, we analyzed teratomas in animals that had received stem cell transplants. We found SSEA-5 on a small group of cells we believe to be responsible for generating the entire tumor.
  • The second goal of the program is to develop methods to selectively culture cardiac stem cells or isolate them from mixed cultures. Thus, in the last year we tested procedures for culturing pluripotent stem cells under conditions that cause them to develop into cardiac stem cells. We also tested a combination of four markers that we hypothesized would tag cardiac stem cells for separation. When these cells were grown under the proper conditions, they began to ‘beat’ and had electrical activity similar to that seen in normal heart cells. When we transplanted the cells with the four markers into mice with normal or damaged hearts, they seemed to develop into mature heart cells. However, these (human) cells did not integrate with the native (mouse) heart cells, perhaps because of the species difference. So we varied the approach and transplanted the human heart stem cells into human heart tissue that had been previously implanted in mice. In this case, we found some evidence that the transplanted cells differentiated into mature heart cells and integrated with the surrounding human cells.
  • The third goal of our project is to culture stem cells that give rise only to blood cells and test them for transplantation. In the past year, we developed a new procedure for treating cultures of pluripotent stem cells so that they differentiate into specific stem cells that generate blood cells and blood vessels. We are now working to refine our understanding and methods so that we end up with a culture of differentiated stem cells that generates only blood cells and not vessels.
  • In summary, we have discovered markers and tested combinations of antibodies for these markers that may select unwanted cells for removal or wanted cells for inclusion in stem cell transplants. We have also begun to develop techniques for taking a group of stem cells that can generate many tissue types, and growing them under conditions that cause them to develop into tissue-specific stem cells that can be used safely for transplantation.
  • Our program is focused on improving methods to purify blood-forming and heart-forming stem cells so that they can be used safely and effectively for therapy. Current methods to identify and isolate blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow and blood are efficient. In addition, we found that if blood-forming stem cells are transplanted, they create in the recipient an immune system that will tolerate (i.e., not reject) organs, tissues, or other types of tissue stem cells (e.g. skin, brain, or heart) from the same donor. Many living or recently deceased donors often cannot contribute these stem cells, so we need, in the future, a single biological source of each of the different types of stem cells (e.g., blood and heart) to change the entire field of regenerative medicine. The ultimate reason to fund embryonic stem cell and other pluripotent stem cell research is to create safe banks of predefined pluripotent cells. Protocols to differentiate these cells to the appropriate blood-forming stem cells could then be used to induce tolerance of other tissue stem cells from the same embryonic stem cell line. However, existing protocols to differentiation stem cells often lead to pluripotent cells (cells that generate multiple types of tissue), which pose a risk of generating normal tissue in the wrong location, abnormal tissue, or cancers called teratomas. To address these problems, we have concentrated our efforts to devise strategies to (a) make pluripotent cells develop into desired tissue-specific stem cells, and (b) to separate these desired cells from all other cells, including teratoma-causing cells. In the first funding period of this grant, we succeeded in raising antibodies that identify and eliminate teratoma-causing cells.
  • In the past year, we identified surface markers of cells that can only give rise to heart tissue. First we studied the genes that were activated in these cells, further confirming that they would likely give rise to heart tissue. Using antibodies against these surface markers, we purified heart stem cells to a higher concentration than has been achieved by other purification methods. We showed that these heart stem cells can be transplanted such that they integrate into the human heart, but not mouse heart, and participate in strong and correctly timed beating.
  • In the embryo, a group of early stem cells in the developing heart give rise to (a) heart cells; (b) cells lining the inner walls of blood vessels; and (c) muscle cells surrounding blood vessels. We identified cell surface markers that could be used to separate each of these subsets from each other and from their common stem cell parents. Finally, we determined that a specific chemical in the body, fibroblast growth factor, increased the growth of a group of pluripotent stem cells that give rise to more specific stem cells that produce either blood cells or the lining of blood vessels. This chemical also prevented blood-forming stem cells from developing into specific blood cells.
  • In the very early embryo, pluripotent cells separate into three distinct categories called ‘germ layers’: the endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. Each of these germ layers later gives rise to certain organs. Our studies of the precursors of mesoderm (the layer that generates the heart, blood vessels, blood, etc.) led us by exclusion to develop techniques to direct ES cell differentiation towards endoderm (the layer that gives rise to liver, pancreas, intestinal lining, etc.). A graduate student before performed most of this work before he joined in our effort to find ways to make functional blood forming stem cells from ES cells. He had identified a group of proteins that we could use to sequentially direct embryonic stem cells to develop almost exclusively into endoderm, then subsets of digestive tract cells, and finally liver stem cells. These liver stem cells derived from embryonic stem cells integrated into mouse livers and showed signs of normal liver tissue function (e.g., secretion of albumin, a major protein in the blood). Using the guidelines of the protocols that generated these liver stem cells, we have now turned our attention back to our goal of generating from mesoderm the predecessors of blood-forming stem cells, and, ultimately, blood-forming stem cells.
  • In summary, we have continued to discover signals that cause pluripotent stem cells (which can generate many types of tissue) to become tissue-specific stem cells that exclusively develop into only heart, blood cells, blood vessel lining cells, cells that line certain sections of the digestive tract, or liver cells. This work has also involved determining the distinguishing molecules on the surface of various cells that allow them to be isolated and nearly purified. These results bring us closer to being able to purify a desired type of stem cell to be transplanted safely to generate only a single type of tissue.
  • The main focus of our program is to improve methods to generate pure populations of tissue-specific stem cells that form only heart tissue or blood. Such tissue-specific stem cells are necessary for developing safe and effective therapies. If injected into patients with heart damage, heart-forming stem cells might be used to regenerate healthy heart tissue. Blood-forming stem cells are capable of regenerating the blood-forming system after cancer therapy and replacing a defective blood forming-system. We showed that blood-forming stem cells from a given donor induce in the recipient permanent transplant tolerance of all organs, tissues, or other tissue stem cells from the same donor. Therefore, having a single biological source of each of the different types of stem cells (e.g., blood and heart) would revolutionize regenerative medicine.
  • Our projects involve generating tissue-specific stem cells from pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), the latter of which are stem cells that can form all tissues of the body. PSCs (which include embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells) can turn into all types of more specialized cells in a process known as “differentiation.” Because PSCs can be grown to very large numbers, differentiating PSCs into tissue-specific stem cells could lead to banks of defined tissue stem cells for transplantation into patients—the ultimate reason to conduct PSC research.
  • However, current methods to differentiate PSCs often generate mixtures of various cell types that are unsafe for injection into patients. Therefore, generating a pure population of a desired cell type from PSC is pivotal for regenerative medicine—purity is a key concern for cell therapy as it is with medications.
  • We have invented technologies to purify desired types of cells from complex cell populations, allowing us to precisely isolate a pure population of tissue-specific stem cells from differentiating PSCs for cell therapy. For instance, in our work on heart-forming cells, we developed labels for cells that progressively give rise to heart cells. We used these labeled cells to clarify the natural, stepwise, differentiation process that leads from PSCs to heart-forming stem cells, and finally to different cells within the heart. Exploiting these technologies to isolate desired cell types, we have completed the first step of turning human PSCs into heart-forming stem cells. In the laboratory, when we transplanted these heart-forming stem cells into a human heart, they integrated with the surrounding tissue and participated in correctly timed beating. In the future we hope to deliver heart-forming stem cells into the damaged heart to regenerate healthy tissue.
  • We have also attempted to turn PSCs into blood-forming stem cells by understanding the complex process of blood formation in the early embryo. As mentioned above, if blood-forming stem cells are transplanted into patients, they create in the recipient an immune system that will tolerate (i.e., not reject) other tissues and types of tissue stem cells (e.g., for skin or heart) from the same donor. Thus, turning PSCs into blood-forming stem cells will provide the basis for all regenerative medicine, whereby the blood-forming stem cells and the needed other tissue stem cells can be generated from the same pluripotent cell line and be transplanted together.
  • In parallel studies to those above, we have turned PSCs into liver-forming stem cells. In the embryo, the liver emerges from a cell type known as endoderm, whereas the blood and heart emerge from a different cell type known as mesoderm. We learned that PSCs could only be steered to form endoderm (and subsequently, liver) by diverting them away from the path that leads to mesoderm. Through this approach, we could turn human PSCs into endoderm cells (at >99% purity) and then into liver-forming stem cells that, when injected into the mouse liver, gave rise to human liver cells. This could be of therapeutic importance for human patients with liver damage.
  • Finally, we have developed methods to deplete PSCs from mixtures of cells differentiated from PSCs, because residual PSCs in these mixtures can form tumors (known as teratomas). These methods should increase the safety of PSC-derived tissue stem cell therapy.
  • In summary, we have developed methods to turn PSCs to tissue-specific stem cells that exclusively develop into only heart, blood cells, or liver cells. This work has involved determining the distinguishing molecules on the surface of various cells that allow them to be isolated and nearly purified. These results bring us closer to being able to purify a desired type of stem cell to be transplanted safely to generate only a single type of tissue.

Development of a cell and gene based therapy for hemophilia

Funding Type: 
Early Translational IV
Grant Number: 
TR4-06809
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 322 440
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Liver Disease
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
Hemophilia B is a bleeding disorder caused by the lack of FIX in the plasma and affects 1/30,000 males. Patients suffer from recurrent bleeds in soft tissues leading to physical disability in addition to life threatening bleeds. Current treatment (based on FIX infusion) is transient and plagued by increased risk for blood-borne infections (HCV, HIV), high costs and limited availability. This has fueled a search for gene/cell therapy based alternatives. Being the natural site of FIX synthesis, the liver is expected to provide immune-tolerance and easy circulatory access. Liver transplantation is a successful, long-term therapeutic option but is limited by scarcity of donor livers and chronic immunosuppression; making iPSC-based cell therapy an attractive prospect. As part of this project, we plan to generate iPSCs from hemophilic patients that will then be genetically corrected by inserting DNA capable of making FIX. After validation for correction, we will then differentiate these iPSCs into liver cells that can be transplanted into our mouse model of hemophilia that is capable of accepting human hepatocytes and allowing their proliferation. These mice exhibit disease symptoms similar to human patients and we propose that by injecting our corrected liver cells they will exhibit normal clotting as measured by various biochemical and physiological assays. If successful, this will provide a long-term cure for hemophilia and other liver diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Generation of iPSCs from adult cells unlocked the potential of tissue engineering, replacement and cell transplant therapies to cure a host of debilitating diseases without the ethical concerns of working with embryos or the practical problems of immune-rejection. We aim to develop a POC for a novel cell- and gene-therapy based approach towards the treatment of hemophilia B. In addition to the obvious and direct benefit to the affected patients and families by providing a potential long-term cure; the successful development of our proposal will serve as a POC for moving other iPSC-based therapies to the clinic. Our proposal also has the potential to treat a host of other hepatic diseases like alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, Wilson’s disease, hereditary hypercholesterolemia, etc. These diseases have devastating effects on the patients in addition to the huge financial drain on the State in terms of the healthcare costs. There is a pressing need to find effective solutions to such chronic health problems in the current socio-economic climate. The work proposed here seeks to redress this by developing cures for diseases that, if left untreated, require substantial, prolonged medical expenditures and cause increased suffering to patients. Being global leaders in these technologies, we are ideally suited to this task, which will establish the state of California at the forefront of medical breakthroughs and strengthen its biomedical/biotechnology industries.
Progress Report: 
  • Hemophilia B is a bleeding disorder caused by the lack of FIX in the plasma and affects 1 in 30,000 males. Patients suffer from recurrent bleeds in soft tissues leading to physical disability in addition to life threatening bleeds. Current treatment (based on FIX infusion) is transient and plagued by increased risk for blood-borne infections (HCV, HIV), high costs and limited availability. This has fueled a search for gene/cell therapy based alternatives. Gene therapy with viruses is beset with problems of safety and increased immunogenicity. Being the natural site of FIX synthesis, the liver is expected to provide immune-tolerance and easy circulatory access. Liver transplantation is a successful, long-term therapeutic option but is limited by scarcity of donor livers and chronic immunosuppression, making iPSC-based cell therapy an attractive prospect. As part of this project, we will generate iPSCs from hemophilic patients that will be genetically corrected by inserting FIX coding DNA. After correction, we will differentiate these iPSCs into liver cells which will then be transplanted into our mouse model of hemophilia that can accept human hepatocytes and allow their proliferation. These mice exhibit disease symptoms similar to human patients and we propose that by injecting our corrected liver cells they will exhibit normal clotting as measured by various biochemical and physiological assays. If successful, this will provide a long-term cure for hemophilia and will serve as a proof-of-concept for the treatment of other liver diseases.
  • With this long term aim, during the first year of the project, we have procured two hemophilic patient samples and two control samples from our collaborators. We have successfully generated iPSCs with no long-term genomic changes. We are currently working towards identifying the mutations in the patients that were responsible for the disease. Our efforts are presently directed towards correcting the mutations in the patient derived iPSCs so that they can now produce a functional FIX protein.

Beta-Globin Gene Correction of Sickle Cell Disease in Hematopoietic Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Early Translational IV
Grant Number: 
TR4-06823
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 815 308
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Disorders affecting the blood, including Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), are the most common genetic disorders in the world. SCD causes significant suffering and early death, despite major improvements in medical management and advances in understanding the complex disease-related biology. A bone marrow transplant (BMT) can greatly benefit patients with SCD, by providing a life-long source of normal red blood cells. However, BMT is limited by the availability of suitable donors and immune complications, especially for the more than 80% of patients who lack a matched sibling donor. An alternative treatment approach for SCD is to isolate some of the patient’s own bone marrow and then use gene therapy methods to correct the sickle gene defect in the blood stem cells before transplanting them back into the patient. The gene-corrected stem cells could make normal blood cells for the life of the patient, essentially eliminating the SCD. Such an approach would avoid the complications typically associated with transplants from non-matched donors. We will define the optimal techniques to correct the sickle gene mutation in the bone marrow stem cells to develop as a therapy for patients with SCD.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Development of methods for regenerative medicine using stem cells will have widespread applications to improve the health and to provide novel, effective therapies for millions of Californians and tens of millions of people worldwide. Many severe medical conditions can be cured or improved by transplantation of blood-forming hematopoietic stem cells (HSC), including genetic diseases of blood cells, such as sickle cell disease and inborn errors of metabolism, cancer and leukemia, and HIV/AIDS. Precise genetic engineering of stem cells to repair inherited mutation may be the best way to correct genetic defects affecting the mature cells they produce. This project will advance methods to precisely repair the genetic defect that underlies sickle cell disease in hematopoietic stem cells, which can then be transplanted to ameliorate the disease. These advances will have direct and immediate applications to enhance current medical therapies of sickle cell disease and will more broadly help to advance the capacities for regenerative medicine. All scientific findings and biomedical materials produced from our studies will be publicly available to non-profit and academic organizations in California, and any intellectual property developed by this Project will be developed under the guidelines of CIRM to benefit the people of the State of California.
Progress Report: 
  • Sickle-cell disease (SCD) is characterized by a single point mutation in the seventh codon of the beta-globin gene. Site-specific correction of the sickle mutation in adult bone marrow hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) would allow for permanent production of normal red blood cells. Site-specific correction can be achieved using proteins called zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) which recognize and bind the region of the genome surrounding the sickle mutation. The ZFNs are able to create a break in the DNA which the cells repair using existing repair machinery. If, at the time of repair, a homologous donor template containing the corrective base is present, the cells' repair machinery can use this template and the resulting cell genome will contain the wild-type base instead of the sickle mutation. By doing this in hematopoietic setm cells, the cell is permanently corrected and each red blood cell (RBC) derived from this corrected stem cell will produce normal, non-sickle RBCs. In this report, we show efficient targeted cleavage by the ZFNs at the beta-globin locus with minimal off-target modification. In addition, we compare two different homologous donor templates (an integrase-defective lentiviral vector [IDLV] and a single-stranded DNA oligonucleotide [oligo]) to determine the optimal donor template. In both wild-type as well as sickle cell disease patient CD34+ HSCs, we are able to deliver the ZFN and donor templates and specifically correct the genome at rates of up to 30%. When these cells are differentiated into RBCs in vitro, we demonstrate that they are not altered in their differentiation capacity and are able to produce wild-type hemoglobin at high levels (35% of all hemoglobins) by HPLC. These results provide a strong basis for moving forward with this work as we begin our efforts to increase the number of treated cells to achieve clinical levels of corrected cells as well as characterize the ability of these cells to engraft a murine model in vivo. The progress made in this year is an exciting step towards a clinical therapy and potential treatment for sickle cell disease.

Human endothelial reprogramming for hematopoietic stem cell therapy.

Funding Type: 
New Faculty Physician Scientist
Grant Number: 
RN3-06479
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 084 000
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The current roadblocks to hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) therapies include the rarity of matched donors for bone marrow transplant, engraftment failures, common shortages of donated blood, and the inability to expand HSCs ex vivo in large numbers. These major obstacles would cease to exist if an extensive, bankable, inexhaustible, and patient-matched supply of blood were available. The recent validation of hemogenic endothelium (blood vessel cells lining the vessel wall give rise to blood stem cells) has introduced new possibilities in hematopoietic stem cell therapy. As the phenomenon of hemogenic endothelium only occurs during embryonic development, we aim to understand the requirements for the process and to re-engineer mature human endothelium (blood vessels) into once again producing blood stem cells (HSCs). The approach of re-engineering tissue specific de-differentiation will accelerate the pace of discovery and translation to human disease. Engineering endothelium into large-scale hematopoietic factories can provide substantial numbers of pure hematopoietic stem cells for clinical use. Higher numbers of cells, and the ability to grow cells from matched donors (or the patients themselves) will increase engraftment and decrease rejection of bone marrow transplantation. In addition, the ability to program mature lineage restricted cells into more primitive versions of the same cell lineage will capitalize on cell renewal properties while minimizing malignancy risk.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Bone marrow transplantation saves the lives of millions with leukemia and other diseases including genetic or immunologic blood disorders. California has over 15 centers serving the population for bone marrow transplantation. While bone marrow transplantation can be seen as a standard to which all stem cell therapies should aspire, there still remains the difficulty of finding matched donors, complications such as graft versus host disease, and the recurrence of malignancy. While cord blood has provided another donor source of stem cells and improved engraftment, it still requires pooling from multiple donors for sufficient cell numbers to be transplanted, which may increase transplant risk. By understanding how to reprogram blood vessels (such as those in the umbilical cord) for production of blood stem cells (as it once did during human development), it could eventually be possible to bank umbilical cord vessels to provide a patient matched reproducible supply of pure blood stem cells for the entire life of the patient. Higher numbers of cells, and the ability to grow cells from matched donors (or the patients themselves) will increase engraftment and decrease rejection of bone marrow transplantation. In addition, the proposed work will introduce a new approach to engineering human cells. The ability to turn back the clock to near mature cell specific stages without going all the way back to early embryonic stem cell stages will reduce the risk of malignancy.
Progress Report: 
  • We aim to understand how blood stem cells develop from blood vessels during development. We are also interested in learning whether the blood-making program can be turned back on in blood vessel cells for blood production outside the human body. During the past year we have been able to extract and culture blood vessel cells that once had blood making capacity. We have also started experiments that will help uncover the regulation of the blood making program. In addition, we have developed tools to help the process of understanding whether iPS technology can "turn back time" in mature blood vessels and turn on the blood making program.

Purified allogeneic hematopoietic stem cells as a platform for tolerance induction

Funding Type: 
Transplantation Immunology
Grant Number: 
RM1-01733
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 403 557
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Immune Disease
Muscular Dystrophy
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Blood and immune cells originate and mature in the bone marrow. Bone marrow cells are mixtures of blood cells at different stages of development, and include rare populations of blood-forming stem cells. These stem cells are the only cells capable of generating the blood system for the life of an individual. Bone marrow transplants (BMT) have been performed > 50 years, to replace a diseased patient’s blood system with that of a donor. Unfortunately, BMT have associated dangers which make the procedure high risk. Major risks include a syndrome called graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) which results when the donor’s mature blood cells attack the organs of the host, and toxicity from the treatments (radiation and chemotherapy) required to permit the donor cells to take in the recipient. These risk factor limit the use of BMT to only immediate life-threatening diseases. If made safer, BMT could cure many other debilitating diseases. In addition to being curative of blood cancers and non-malignant blood diseases (such as sickle-cell anemia), these transplants can cure autoimmune diseases, such as juvenile (type I) diabetes and multiple sclerosis. In addition, simultaneous BMT with organ transplants induces “tolerance” to the new organ, meaning the recipient will not reject the graft because the new blood system provides continuous proteins to re-train the recipient immune system not to attack it. This establishment of tolerance eliminates the need for drugs that suppress the immune system. In efforts to make BMT safer, our research has focused on isolating the blood stem cells away from the other bone marrow cells because transplants of pure stem cells do not cause GvHD. We developed the methods to purify the blood stem cells from mouse and human blood forming sources and showed in mice that transplants of blood stem cells can cure autoimmune disease and induce tolerance to solid organ transplants. However, this technology has not been tested in human clinical trials because safer methods must be developed that permit the stem cells to engraft in recipients. Our studies in mice show that we can replace the toxic drugs and radiation used to prepare recipients for BMT with non-toxic proteins that target the cells responsible for rejection of blood stem cells. The goal of this study is to translate this technology from mice to patient clinical trials. If successful, the studies will open the door to the use of blood stem cell transplants to the many thousands of patients who could benefit from this approach. The science behind achieving blood stem cell engraftment by the methods we propose look toward the future when blood stem cells and other tissues will be developed from pluripotent stem cells (ES, NT and iPS). We envision that the blood stem cells will induce tolerance to tissues derived from the same pluripotent stem cell line, in the same way that adult blood stem cells induce tolerance to organs from the same living donor.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The science and the preclinical pathway to induce human immune tolerance in patients with degenerative diseases so that new blood and tissue stem cells can regenerate their lost tissues: For stem cell biology to launch the era of regenerative medicine, stem cells capable of robust and specific regeneration upon transplantation must be found, and methods for safe patient administration must be developed. In the cases where cell donation cannot come from the host, immune responses will reject the donor stem cells. Successful transplants of blood-forming stem cells (HSC) leads to elimination immune cells that reject organ grafts from donors. While bone marrow or cord blood transplants contain immune cells called T cells that will attack the host in a potentially lethal graft against host immune reaction, purified HSC do not do this. Pluripotent stem cells (ES, NT, iPS) can make all cell types in the body and provide a shortcut to find tissue and organ stem cells. Just as co-transplants of adult HSC prevent rejection of organs from the same donor, co-transplants of HSC derived from pluripotent cells should protect tissues derived from the same pluripotent line. Attack by a patient's blood system against one’s own organs cause the syndromes of autoimmune disease including juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Transplanted HSC from donor mice genetically resistant to these diseases end the autoimmune attack permanently. We have in mice, substituted minimally toxic antibodies for toxic chemoradiotherapy to prepare the host for HSC transplants. Now it is time to take these advances to humans, with human immune cell and HSC-targeting antibodies. Long-term potential benefits to the state of California and its residents: The justification for Proposition 71 was to establish in California centers of research not funded adequately in the areas of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. This research, if successful, is the platform for the application of stem cell biology to regenerative medicine. The costs for long-term immune suppression to patients who receive organ transplants are enormous, both in terms of quality of life, even survival, and healthcare resources. Add to that the lifetime costs of insulin to treat juvenile diabetes, with the inevitable premature diseases of compromised blood vessels and organs, and the shortened lifespan of patients. Add to that the costs to lives and the healthcare system of lupus, of multiple sclerosis, of other autoimmune diseases like juvenile and adult rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma, and of muscular dystrophy, to mention a few, and the value to Californians and people everywhere is obvious. If our studies are successful, and if the clinical trials were first done in California, our citizens will have the first chance at successful treatment. Further, if these studies are successful - new antibodies, if produced by CIRM funds, will generate royalties which eventually will return to the state.
Progress Report: 
  • The successful transplantation of blood forming stem cells from one person to another can alter the recipient immune system in profound ways. The transplanted blood forming cells can condition the recipient to accept organs from the original stem cell donor without the need for drugs to suppress their immune system; and such transplantations can be curative of autoimmune diseases such as childhood diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Modification of the immune system in these ways is called immune tolerance induction.
  • Unfortunately, the current practice of blood stem cell transplantation is associated with serious risks, including risk of death in 10-20% of recipients. It has been a long-standing goal of investigators in this field to make transplantations safer so that patients that must undergo this procedure have better outcomes, and so that patients who need an organ graft or that suffer from an autoimmune disorder can be effectively treated by this powerful form of cellular therapy. The major objectives of our proposal are to achieve this goal by developing methods to prepare patients to accept blood forming stem cell grafts with reagents that specifically target cell populations in recipients that constitute the barriers to engraftment, and to transplant only purified blood forming stem cells thereby avoiding the potentially lethal complication call graft-vs-host disease.
  • The proposal has four Specific Aims. Aims 1 and 2 focus on development of biologic agents that specifically target recipient barrier cells. Aims 3 and 4 propose to test the reagents and approaches developed in the first two aims in mouse models to induce tolerance to co-transplanted tissues and to cure animals with Type 1 diabetes mellitus or multiple sclerosis. These aims have not changed in this reporting period.
  • One parameter of success in this project is the development of one or more biologic reagents that can replace toxic radiation and chemotherapy that can be used in human clinical trials by the end of the third year of funding (Aim 2). In this regard, significant progress has been made in the last year. A reagent critical to the success of donor blood forming stem cell engraftment is one that targets and eliminates the stem cells that already reside in the recipients. Recipient blood stem cells block the ability of donor stem cells to take. In our prior mouse studies we determined that a protein (antibody) that specifically targets a molecule on the surface of blood forming stem cells called CD117 is capable of eliminating recipient blood stem cells thus opening up special niches and allowing donor stem cells to engraft. This antibody was highly effective in permitting engraftment of purified donor blood stem cells in mice that lack a functional immune system. In this application we proposed to develop and test reagents that could target and eliminate human blood forming stem cells by targeting human CD117. This year we have identified and tested such an antibody which is manufactured by a third party. This anti-CD117 antibody has been evaluated in early clinical trials for an indication separate from our proposed use and appears to be non-toxic. In mice that we generated to house a human blood system, the antibody was capable eliminating the human blood forming stem cells. We plan to pursue the use of this reagent in a clinical trial as a non-toxic way to prepare children with a disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) for transplantation. Without a transplant children with SCID will die. The use of the anti-CD117 antibody and transplantation of purified blood forming stem cells has the potential to significantly reduce the complications of such transplants and improve the outcomes for these patients. The trial will be the first step to using this form of targeted therapy and serve as a pioneering study for all indications for which a blood forming stem cell transplant is needed, including the induction of immune tolerance.
  • The transplantation of blood forming stem cells from one individual to another can alter the recipient immune system in profound ways. Transplanted blood forming cells can condition the recipient to accept organs from the original stem cell donor without the need for drugs to suppress their immune system. Such transplantations can also be curative of autoimmune diseases such as childhood diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Modification of the immune system in these ways is called immune tolerance induction.
  • The major goal of this project is to enable the use of blood forming stem cell transplantation for the purpose of immune tolerance induction without unwanted side effects. The current practice of blood stem cell transplantation is associated with serious risks, including risk of death in 10-20% of recipients due to complications of transplant conditioning and graft-versus-host disease. We aim to abolish or reduce the risks of these transplantations so that this curative form of stem cell therapy can safely treat patients who need an organ graft or who suffer from an autoimmune disorder. To achieve our goals, we proposed the development of methods to prepare patients to accept blood forming stem cell grafts with reagents that specifically target recipient cell populations that constitute the barriers to engraftment, and to transplant only purified blood forming stem cells, thereby avoiding graft-versus-host disease.
  • The proposal has four Specific Aims. Aims 1 and 2 focus on development of biologic agents that specifically target recipient barrier cells. Aims 3 and 4 propose testing the reagents and approaches developed in the first two aims in mouse models to induce tolerance to co-transplanted tissues and to cure animals with muscular dystrophy, Type 1 diabetes mellitus and multiple sclerosis. These aims have not changed in this reporting period.
  • In this reporting period, significant progress has been made in the first three aims. In prior years we identified a biologic reagent that has the potential to replace toxic radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation and chemotherapy are used in transplantation to eliminate the blood forming stem cells of recipients because recipient stem cells block the ability of donor cells to take. The novel reagent we have studied is a protein, called a monoclonal antibody, which differs from radiation and chemotherapy because it specifically targets and eliminates recipient blood stem cells. This antibody reagent recognizes a molecule on the surface of blood stem cells called CD117. In years 1 and 2 we began testing of an anti-human CD117 (anti-hCD117) antibody in mice. Mice were engrafted with human blood cells and we showed that this antibody safely and specifically eliminated the human blood forming cells. These studies were proof-of-concept that the antibody is appropriate for use in human clinical trials.
  • This last year we were awarded a CIRM Disease Team grant to move the testing of this anti-hCD117 from the experimental phase in mice to a clinical trial for the treatment of children with a disease call severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), also known as the “bubble boy” disease. Children with SCID are missing certain types of white blood cells (lymphocytes) so they cannot defend themselves from infections. Without a transplant, children with SCID will die. The use of the anti-CD117 antibody and transplantation of purified blood forming stem cells has the potential to significantly reduce the complications of such transplants and improve the outcomes for these patients. The use of the anti-CD117 antibody and transplantation of purified blood forming stem cells has the potential to significantly reduce the complications of such transplants and improve the outcomes for these patients. The trial will be the first step to using this form of targeted therapy and serve as a pioneering study for all indications for which a blood forming stem cell transplant is needed, including the induction of immune tolerance.
  • In the last year we have moved forward with the purification of skeletal muscle stem cells based upon labeling and sorting of primitive muscle cells that express an array of molecules on the cell surface. We have also transplanted a special strain of mice (mdx) that are a model for muscular dystrophy with blood forming stem cells from normal mouse donors. In the coming year we will perform simultaneous transplants of blood forming stem cells and skeletal muscle stem cells from normal donor mice into the mdx mice. We will determine if the blood stem cells permit the long-term survival of the muscle stem cells in recipients transplanted across histocompatibility barriers. Our ultimate goal is to achieve long-term recovery of muscle cell function in the recipients of these co-transplantations.
  • The transplantation of blood forming stem cells from one individual to another is widely used to treat patients with otherwise incurable cancers. Because such transplantations alter the recipient immune system in profound ways there are many other applications for this powerful form of therapy. The studies proposed in this grant focused on the use of blood stem cell transplantation for the purpose of immune tolerance induction. Tolerance induction in this setting means that transplantation of blood stem cells trains the body of a recipient to accept organs from same stem cell donor without the need for drugs to suppress their immune system. Blood stem transplantations can also reverse aberrant immune responses in individuals with autoimmune diseases such as childhood diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
  • In this project we sought to develop new ways to perform blood stem cell transplants to make the procedure safer and therefore more widely useable for a broad spectrum of patients. Transplants can be dangerous and sometimes fatal. Serious complications are caused by the toxic chemotherapy or radiation which are used to permit stem cells to engraft, and by a syndrome called graft-versus-host disease. Our research has aimed to replace the toxic treatments by testing novel reagents that more specifically target and eliminate the cells in recipients that constitute the barriers to stem cell engraftment. Furthermore, we perform transplantations of purified blood forming stem cells, and thus are able to avoid the problem of graft-versus-host disease which is caused by non-stem cell “passenger” immune cells in the donor grafts.
  • The proposal has four Specific Aims. Aims 1 and 2 focus on development of biologic agents that specifically target recipient barrier cells. Aims 3 and 4 propose testing the reagents and approaches developed in the first two aims in mouse models to induce tolerance to co-transplanted tissues and to cure animals with muscular dystrophy, Type 1 diabetes mellitus and multiple sclerosis. These aims have not changed in this reporting period.
  • Our prior reports highlighted our progress in Aim 2, which is now complete. Aim 2 focused on the identification and testing of an antibody directed against a molecule called CD117 present on surface of human blood stem cells. We demonstrated that this antibody can safely target and eliminate human blood stem cells in mice that had been previously engrafted with human cells. Based upon these studies we were awarded a CIRM Disease Team Grant, which will test this anti-human CD117 antibody in a clinical trial for the treatment of children with severe combined immune deficiency (SCID), also known as the “bubble boy” disease. Children with SCID are missing certain types of white blood cells (lymphocytes) so they cannot defend themselves from infections. Without a transplant, SCID patients usually die before the age of two. Our proposed clinical study has the potential to significantly improve the success of transplants for these patients. This clinical trial will be a first to test a reagent that specifically targets recipient stem cells to clear niche space and allow replacement therapy by healthy donor stem cells.
  • In the last year we have continued to make significant progress on Aims 1, 3 and 4. Aim 1 proposed to study how to improve blood stem cell engraftment using novel agents in mice that have intact immune systems. The anti-CD117 antibody discussed above works well in recipients that lack lymphocytes but not recipients with normal immune function. We have tested the anti-CD117 antibody in mice that lack more defined lymphocyte subsets to narrow down which lymphocyte type must be neutralized or eliminated. We have also tested novel reagents that inhibit the activity of specific immune cells and observed a stronger effect of the anti-CD117 antibody when co-administered with these reagents. For Aims 3 and 4, we have successfully achieved our goal of performing blood stem cell transplants that result in the stable mixing of blood cells between donor and recipients (called partial chimerism). For Aim 3, recipients are from a specialized mouse strain that models muscular dystrophy (MDX mice). We have transplanted purified skeletal muscle stem cells (SMSC) and observed engraftment of SMSC in MDX mice injected with genetically-matched SMSC. The next step is to test if co-transplants of blood stem cells plus SMSC from genetically mismatched donors will permanently engraft and expand in MDX recipients. For Aim 4, two mouse models are studied: (1) NOD mice which model childhood diabetes, and (2) mice that develop multiple sclerosis. We can successfully block the progression of disease in these animals with blood stem cell transplants. Our next steps are to apply the therapies developed in Aim 1 to these disease models. In the post-award period we will continue to carry out studies testing the novel approaches developed here in models of tolerance induction.

Stem Cell Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Disease

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01452
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$9 212 365
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Sickle cell disease (SCD), which results from an inherited mutation in the hemoglobin gene that causes red blood cells to "sickle" under conditions of low oxygen, occurs with a frequency of 1/500 African-Americans, and is also common in Hispanic-Americans, who comprise up to 5% of SCD patients in California. The median survival based on 1991 national data was 42 years for males and 48 years for females. More recent data indicate that the median survival for Southern California patients with SCD is only 36 years, suggesting that serious problems exist regarding access to optimal medical care in this community. By twenty years of age, about 15% of children with SCD suffer major strokes and by 40 years of age, almost half of the patients have had central nervous system damage leading to significant cognitive dysfunction. These patients suffer recurrent damage to lungs and kidneys as well as severe chronic pain that impacts on quality of life. While current medical therapies for SCD can make an important difference in short-term effects, the progressive deterioration in organ function results in compromised quality of life and early deaths in ethnic populations who are generally adversely affected by health care disparity. Transplantation of bone marrow from a healthy donor as a source of new adult blood-forming ("hematopoietic") stem cells can benefit patients with SCD, by providing a source for life-long production of normal red blood cells. However, bone marrow transplant is limited by the availability of well-matched donors and the problems that arise from immune reactions between the cells of the donor and the patient. Thus, despite major improvements in clinical care of SCD patients, SCD continues to be a major cause of illness and early death. The stem cell therapy approach to be developed by this Disease Team will be used to treat patients with SCD by transplanting them with their own bone marrow adult hematopoietic stem cells that are genetically corrected by adding a hemoglobin gene that blocks sickling of the red blood cells. This approach has the potential to permanently cure this debilitating and common illness with significantly less toxicity than with a bone marrow transplant from another person. A clinical trial using stem cell gene therapy for patients with SCD will be developed to be performed by this Team. This multi-disciplinary Disease Team combines world-leading experts in stem cell gene therapy, clinical bone marrow transplantation and the care of patients with sickle cell disease. Successful use of stem cell gene therapy for sickle cell disease has the potential to provide a more effective and safe treatment for this disease to a larger proportion of affected patients.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Development of methods for regenerative medicine using genetically-corrected human stem cells will result in novel, effective therapies that improve the health for millions of Californians and tens of millions of people world-wide. Sickle cell disease is an inherited disease of the red blood cells that results from a specific gene mutation. Sickle cell disease disproportionately afflicts poor minority patients in the State of California, causing severe morbidity, early mortality and high medical costs. We will develop a clinical trial to evaluate a novel treatment for patients with sickle cell disease, using their own adult blood-forming stem cells, after correcting the hemoglobin gene defect. Successful treatment of sickle cell disease using adult blood forming “hematopoietic” stem cells corrected with gene therapy may provide a clinically beneficial way to treat sickle cell disease with greater safety and wider availability than current options. The clinical trial to be developed will treat sickle cell disease patients from across the state of California through the network of institutions incorporated into this Disease Team. All scientific findings and biomedical materials produced from our studies will be publicly available to non-profit and academic organizations in California, and any intellectual property developed by this Project will be developed under the guidelines of CIRM to benefit the State of California.
Progress Report: 
  • The clinical complications of sickle cell disease are due to the inherited abnormality of the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin protein in red blood cells (RBC). The RBC are made from stem cells in the bone marrow and transplantation of stem cells from the bone marrow of a healthy donor to someone with sickle cell disease (SCD) can lead to significant improvements in their health. However, most people do not have a matched sibling donor, and transplants from unrelated donors have higher risks for complications, mainly due to immune reactions between the donor and the recipient.
  • The goal of this project is to bring to the clinic a trial of treating patients with SCD by transplanting them with their own bone marrow stem cells that have been modified in the lab by adding the gene for a version of human beta-globin that will act to inhibit sickling of the patient’s RBC (“anti-sickling” gene). This approach may provide a way to improve the health of people with SCD, with advantages over clinical treatments using transplantation of bone marrow stem cells from another person.
  • The major Year 1 Milestone was to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach, i.e. that the clinical cell product, the subject’s bone marrow stem cells modified with the anti-sickling gene, can be produced suitably for clinical transplantation and that enough of the anti-sickling hemoglobin is made to reverse sickling of RBC made from the gene-modified stem cells.
  • Studies done by the Laboratory component of our Disease Team showed that the gene transfer lentiviral vector we developed to insert the anti-sickling gene into bone marrow stem cells met pre-set technical criteria for: the amount of vector that can be made, its efficiency to insert the anti-sickling gene into human bone marrow stem cells, the levels of anti-sickling beta-globin protein made by the vector in RBC made from bone marrow stem cells, and the absence of adverse effects on the stem cells or their ability to make new RBC. These successful results allow advancement to the major lab focus for Years 2-3, pre-clinical efficacy and safety studies to support an IND application.
  • The Clinical/Regulatory component of our Disease team established the proposed network of California clinical hematology sites to obtain bone marrow samples from volunteer donors with SCD for laboratory research studies on cell product development (UCLA, CHLA and CHRCO). We put into place the necessary IRB-approved protocols to collect bone marrow samples at these sites to use for the laboratory research at UCLA and USC. This network obtained its first BM sample from a SCD donor on 3/18/2010 and a total of 15 over the year. These patient-derived samples have been truly essential to the advancement of the laboratory work because bone marrow from SCD patients is needed for studies to measure expression of the anti-sickling gene and improvement in RBC sickling.
  • The Clinical Regulatory component has also produced a complete first draft of the clinical trial protocol, which defines which specific people with SCD would be eligible for participation in this study, and the exact approach of the clinical study, including how the patients will be evaluated before the procedure, the details of the bone marrow harvest, stem cell processing and transplant processes, and how the effects of the procedure will be assessed. This protocol was conceived with input from the Team of physicians and scientists with expertise in clinical and experimental hematology, bone marrow transplantation, transfusion medicine, gene therapy and cell processing laboratory methods, regulatory affairs, and biostatistics.
  • These efforts provided sufficient laboratory data and definition of the clinical approach that we could have a pre-pre-IND exchange with the FDA (on 09/30/10). This interaction provided us the opportunity to receive initial guidance for three key areas that would comprise the IND application: the draft clinical protocol, the methods to make and characterize the gene-modified stem cell product for transplant, and the planned pre-clinical safety studies. The meeting was encouraging and informative.
  • In Year 2, our laboratory work will focus on determining the functional effects of inserting the anti-sickling gene into bone marrow stem cells from SCD donors on sickling of the RBC. We will begin to define the laboratory test methods that would be used to measure the results in the clinical trial (% of stem and blood cells with the gene, the amounts of anti-sickling beta-globin made, and the effects on RBC sickling). We will continue to design the studies to formally test vector safety (Toxicology study). The major goal is to advance to a pre-IND meeting with the FDA which should provide further guidance to finalize the design of the pre-clinical toxicology study and the clinical trial design. We will then be ready to implement the toxicology study and begin regulatory reviews of the protocol by local and federal authorities.
  • The clinical complications of sickle cell disease are due to the inherited abnormality of the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin protein in red blood cells (RBC). The RBC are made from stem cells in the bone marrow and transplantation of stem cells from the bone marrow of a healthy donor to someone with sickle cell disease (SCD) can lead to significant improvements in their health. However, most people do not have a matched sibling donor, and transplants from unrelated donors have higher risks for complications, mainly due to immune reactions between the donor and the recipient.
  • The goal of this project is to bring to the clinical trial of treating patients with SCD by transplanting them with their own bone marrow stem cells that have been modified in the laboratory by adding the gene for a version of human beta-globin that will act to inhibit sickling of the patient’s RBC (“anti-sickling” gene). This approach may provide a way to improve the health of people with SCD, with advantages over clinical treatments using transplantation of bone marrow stem cells from another person.
  • In the first 2 years of this project we were able to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach, i.e. that the clinical cell product, the subject’s bone marrow stem cells modified with the anti-sickling gene, can be produced suitably for clinical transplantation and that enough of the anti-sickling hemoglobin is made to reverse sickling of RBC made from the gene-modified stem cells.
  • Studies done by the Laboratory component of our Disease Team showed that the gene transfer lentiviral vector we developed to insert the anti-sickling gene into bone marrow stem cells met pre-set technical criteria for: the amount of vector that can be made, its efficiency to insert the anti-sickling gene into human bone marrow stem cells, the levels of anti-sickling beta-globin protein made by the vector in RBC, and the absence of adverse effects on the stem cells or their ability to make new RBC. These successful results allow advancement to the major lab focus for Year 3, safety studies to support an IND application.
  • The Clinical/Regulatory component of our Disease team established the proposed network of California clinical hematology sites to obtain bone marrow samples from volunteer donors with SCD for laboratory research studies on cell product development (UCLA, CHLA and CHRCO). We put into place the necessary IRB-approved protocols to collect bone marrow samples at these sites to use for the laboratory research at UCLA and USC. This network obtained its first BM sample from a SCD donor on 3/18/2010 and a total of 29 over 2 years. These patient-derived samples have been truly essential to the advancement of the laboratory work because bone marrow from SCD patients is needed for studies to measure expression of the anti-sickling gene and improvement in RBC sickling.
  • The Clinical Regulatory component has also produced a complete first draft of the clinical trial protocol, which defines which specific people with SCD would be eligible for participation in this study, and the exact approach of the clinical study, including how the patients will be evaluated before the procedure, the details of the bone marrow harvest, stem cell processing and transplant processes, and how the effects of the procedure will be assessed. This protocol was conceived with input from the Team of physicians and scientists with expertise in clinical and experimental hematology, bone marrow transplantation, transfusion medicine, gene therapy and cell processing laboratory methods, regulatory affairs, and biostatistics.
  • These efforts provided sufficient laboratory data and definition of the clinical approach that we could have a pre-IND meeting with the FDA (on 08/22/11). This interaction provided us the opportunity to receive guidance for three key areas that would comprise the IND application: the draft clinical protocol, the methods to make and characterize the gene-modified stem cell product for transplant, and the planned pre-clinical safety studies. The meeting was encouraging and informative.
  • In Year 3, our laboratory work will focus on performing pre-clinical safety studies (Toxicology study), qualifying end point assays and finalizing stem cell processing.
  • The clinical complications of sickle cell disease are due to the inherited abnormality of the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin protein in red blood cells (RBC). The RBC are made from stem cells in the bone marrow and transplantation of stem cells from the bone marrow of a healthy donor to someone with sickle cell disease (SCD) can lead to significant improvements in their health. However, most people do not have a matched sibling donor, and transplants from unrelated donors have higher risks for complications, mainly due to immune reactions between the donor and the recipient.
  • The goal of this project is to develop a clinical trial to treat patients with SCD by transplanting them with their own bone marrow stem cells that have been modified in the laboratory by adding the gene for a version of human beta-globin that will act to inhibit sickling of the patient’s RBC (“anti-sickling” gene). This approach may provide a way to improve the health of people with SCD, with advantages over clinical treatments using transplantation of bone marrow stem cells from another person.
  • In the first 2 years of this project we demonstrated the feasibility of this approach, i.e. that the clinical cell product, the subject’s bone marrow stem cells modified with the anti-sickling gene, can be produced suitably for clinical transplantation and that enough of the anti-sickling hemoglobin is made to reverse sickling of RBC made from the gene-modified stem cells. The Clinical/Regulatory component of our Disease Team established the proposed network of California clinical hematology sites to obtain bone marrow samples from volunteer donors with SCD for laboratory research studies on cell product development (UCLA, CHLA and CHRCO). We put into place the necessary IRB-approved protocols to collect bone marrow samples at these sites to use for the laboratory research at UCLA and USC. This network obtained its first BM sample from a SCD donor on 3/18/2010 and a total of 45 over 3 years. These patient-derived samples have been truly essential to the advancement of the laboratory work because bone marrow from SCD patients is needed for studies to measure expression of the anti-sickling gene and improvement in RBC sickling. The Clinical Regulatory component has also produced the clinical trial protocol, which defines which specific people with SCD would be eligible for participation in this study, and the exact approach of the clinical study, including how the patients will be evaluated before the procedure, the details of the bone marrow harvest, stem cell processing and transplant processes, and how the effects of the procedure will be assessed. This protocol was conceived with input from the Team of physicians and scientists with expertise in clinical and experimental hematology, bone marrow transplantation, transfusion medicine, gene therapy and cell processing laboratory methods, regulatory affairs, and biostatistics.
  • During the third year the Clinical Gene Therapy Laboratory component of the Team has demonstrated the feasibility of the stem cell processing procedure. Mimicking the future clinical scenario, the Lab was able to isolate stem cells from a largescale bone marrow harvest, insert the anti-sickling gene in adequate amount and recover the needed amount of stem cells that would be transplanted into the patient. The Clinical/Regulatory component of our Disease Team is focusing on validating all the assays that will be used during the clinical trial i.e. to characterize the final cell product and also the end-point assays to analyze the efficacy of this approach in patients. Another major focus during the third year has been safety and toxicology studies in a murine model of bone marrow transplant; the studies are still ongoing and will be completed in the next year. These successful results allow advancement to support an IND application in year 4.
  • CIRM DR1-01452 - Stem Cell Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Disease
  • Scientific Progress in Year 4
  • The clinical complications of sickle cell disease are due to the inherited abnormality of the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin protein in red blood cells (RBC). The RBC are made from stem cells in the bone marrow and transplantation of stem cells from the bone marrow of a healthy donor to someone with sickle cell disease (SCD) can lead to significant improvements in their health. However, most people do not have a matched sibling donor, and transplants from unrelated donors have higher risks for complications, mainly due to immune reactions between the donor and the recipient.
  • The goal of this project is to develop a clinical trial to treat patients with SCD by transplanting them with their own bone marrow stem cells that have been modified in the laboratory by adding the gene for a version of human beta-globin that will act to inhibit sickling of the patient’s RBC (“anti-sickling” gene). This approach may provide a way to improve the health of people with SCD, with advantages over clinical treatments using transplantation of bone marrow stem cells from another person.
  • In the first 2 years of this project, we demonstrated the feasibility of this approach, i.e. that the clinical cell product, the subject’s bone marrow stem cells modified with the anti-sickling gene, can be produced suitably for clinical transplantation and that enough of the anti-sickling hemoglobin is made to reverse sickling of RBC made from the gene-modified stem cells. The Clinical/Regulatory component of our Disease Team established the proposed network of California clinical hematology sites to obtain bone marrow samples from volunteer donors with SCD for laboratory research studies on cell product development (UCLA, CHLA and CHRCO). We put into place the necessary IRB-approved protocols to collect bone marrow samples at these sites to use for the laboratory research at UCLA and USC. This network obtained its first BM sample from a SCD donor on 3/18/2010 and a total of 56 over 4 years. These patient-derived samples have been truly essential to the advancement of the laboratory work because bone marrow from SCD patients is needed for studies to measure expression of the anti-sickling gene and improvement in RBC sickling. The Clinical Regulatory component has also produced the clinical trial protocol, which defines which specific people with SCD would be eligible for participation in this study, and the exact approach of the clinical study, including how the patients will be evaluated before the procedure, the details of the bone marrow harvest, stem cell processing and transplant processes, and how the effects of the procedure will be assessed. This protocol was conceived with input from the Team of physicians and scientists with expertise in clinical and experimental hematology, bone marrow transplantation, transfusion medicine, gene therapy and cell processing laboratory methods, regulatory affairs, and biostatistics. It has now been approved by the UCLA Institutional Review Board and the Institutional Scientific Protocol review Committee, as well as the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee.
  • During the last 2 years the Clinical Gene Therapy Laboratory component of the Team has demonstrated the feasibility of the stem cell processing procedure. Mimicking the future clinical scenario, the Lab was able to isolate stem cells from a large scale bone marrow harvest, insert the anti-sickling gene in adequate amount and recover the needed amount of stem cells that would be transplanted into the patient. The Clinical/Regulatory component of our Disease Team validated all the assays that will be used during the clinical trial i.e. to characterize the final cell product and also the end-point assays to analyze the efficacy of this approach in patients. Another major focus during the third and fourth year has been safety and toxicology studies in a murine model of bone marrow transplant; these successful results allow advancement to support an IND application in the second quarter of 2014, with a goal of opening the trial in the third quarter of the year.
  • The clinical complications of sickle cell disease are due to the inherited abnormality of the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin protein in red blood cells (RBC). The RBC are made from stem cells in the bone marrow and transplantation of stem cells from the bone marrow of a healthy donor to someone with sickle cell disease (SCD) can lead to significant improvements in their health. However, most people do not have a matched sibling donor, and transplants from unrelated donors have higher risks for complications, mainly due to immune reactions between the donor and the recipient.
  • The goal of this project is to develop a clinical trial to treat patients with SCD by transplanting them with their own bone marrow stem cells that have been modified in the laboratory by adding the gene for a version of human beta-globin that will act to inhibit sickling of the patient’s RBC (“anti-sickling” gene). This approach may provide a way to improve the health of people with SCD, with advantages over clinical treatments using transplantation of bone marrow stem cells from another person.
  • In the first 2 years of this project, we demonstrated the feasibility of this approach, i.e. that the clinical cell product, the subject’s bone marrow stem cells modified with the anti-sickling gene, can be produced suitably for clinical transplantation and that enough of the anti-sickling hemoglobin is made to reverse sickling of RBC made from the gene-modified stem cells. The Clinical/Regulatory component of our Disease Team established the proposed network of California clinical hematology sites to obtain bone marrow samples from volunteer donors with SCD for laboratory research studies on cell product development (UCLA, CHLA and CHRCO). We put into place the necessary IRB-approved protocols to collect bone marrow samples at these sites to use for the laboratory research at UCLA and USC. This network obtained its first BM sample from a SCD donor on 3/18/2010 and a total of 58 over 4+ years. These patient-derived samples have been truly essential to the advancement of the laboratory work because bone marrow from SCD patients is needed for studies to measure expression of the anti-sickling gene and improvement in RBC sickling. The Clinical Regulatory component has also produced the clinical trial protocol, which defines which specific people with SCD would be eligible for participation in this study, and the exact approach of the clinical study, including how the patients will be evaluated before the procedure, the details of the bone marrow harvest, stem cell processing and transplant processes, and how the effects of the procedure will be assessed. This protocol was conceived with input from the Team of physicians and scientists with expertise in clinical and experimental hematology, bone marrow transplantation, transfusion medicine, gene therapy and cell processing laboratory methods, regulatory affairs, and biostatistics. It has now been approved by the UCLA Institutional Review Board and the Institutional Scientific Protocol review Committee, as well as the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee.
  • During the last 2 years the Clinical Gene Therapy Laboratory component of the Team has demonstrated the feasibility of the stem cell processing procedure. Mimicking the future clinical scenario, the Lab was able to isolate stem cells from a large scale bone marrow harvest, insert the anti-sickling gene in adequate amount and recover the needed amount of stem cells that would be transplanted into the patient. The Clinical/Regulatory component of our Disease Team validated all the assays that will be used during the clinical trial i.e. to characterize the final cell product and also the end-point assays to analyze the efficacy of this approach in patients. Another major focus during the third and fourth year has been to demonstrate the safety of this approach in a murine model of bone marrow transplant; these successful results allowed advancement to support an IND application and opening a clinical trial for gene therapy of SCD in the second quarter of 2014.

Small molecule tools and scale-up technologies to expand human umbilical cord blood stem and progenitor cells for clinical and research use

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies III
Grant Number: 
RT3-07692
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 416 600
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Tens of thousands of patients need bone marrow transplants (BMT) every year, some for bone marrow (BM) cancers and some for inherited diseases such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia, but many lack a BM donor. African Americans, Asian Americans, and people of Hispanic descent are more likely than others to lack a stem cell donor. BMTs provide hematopoietic (blood) stem and progenitor cells (HS/PCs) that replace the patient’s diseased BM with healthy BM. The new BM provides all the circulating blood cells throughout life. Many BMTs use HS/PCs that do not come from the BM. One such ‘other’ source is umbilical cord blood (UCB). UCB HS/PCs have many advantages over other HS/PC sources (i.e., BM or peripheral blood). For example, we can easily obtain UCB HS/PCs without any risk to the donor, and we can keep the cells stored in freezers to be available when a patient needs them. However, most UCB samples contain too few HS/PCs to be used to treat people. Expanding the number of HS/PCs in UCB samples will increase the number of clinically usable UCB samples, offering new hope for thousands of patients who currently lack a donor. We previously screened >120,000 compounds for their ability to expand UCB HS/PCS, and identified a short list of lead candidates. This grant will fund the next step in our effort to develop a novel, clinically-useful UCB HS/PC expansion protocol. Successful completion of this proposal will result in life-saving treatment for thousands of patients.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Our proposal seeks to establish a novel method to expand umbilical cord blood hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HS/PCs) to make bone marrow transplants (BMTs) available to thousands of patients who currently lack a stem cell donor. The benefits to California are wide-ranging: • Grow California’s skilled workforce and create jobs: This project will train scientists in stem cell research and technology, and our success will attract more talent from outside California. • Increase innovation: This proposal is highly translational, with a goal to move rapidly from bench to bedside. However, our research will also provide basic insights into stem cell biology that can be applied by other scientists to help patients more broadly. • Enhancing the medical treatment of California residents: Compounds that expand UBC HS/PCs have the potential to improve clinical benefit and reduce health care costs by increasing the success rate of stem-cell transplants. Given California’s diverse ethnic population, we have many patients who need a BMT yet lack a donor, so our residents will directly benefit from our success. • Attracting venture capital and commercialization: We aim to develop technology that will be highly attractive to the biotechnology industry. We have identified GE as a partner to commercialize our reagents and processes. Furthermore, commercially viable compounds will attract venture capital to fund cell therapies and create new biotech jobs for the California economy.

A suite of engineered human pluripotent stem cell lines to facilitate the generation of hematopoietic stem cells

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies III
Grant Number: 
RT3-07763
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 382 400
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Collaborative Funder: 
Australia
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Our goal is to develop tools that address major bottlenecks that have prevented the generation of blood forming stem cells in culture for therapeutic use. To help overcome these bottlenecks, we will generate a suite of human embryonic stem cell reporter lines that can be used to monitor key milestones in blood stem cell development. These lines will serve as tools to identify factor combinations to improve the in vitro differentiation of hESCs to functional blood stem cells. Once individual lines have been validated, lines that contain multiple fluorescent reporters will be generated, and a multi factor screen will be performed to optimize conditions that induce these blood stem cell regulators. To track the location and quantity of transplanted cells in recipient small animal model, we will generate hESC lines with in vivo reporter system that combines bioluminescent or PET imaging, and serum-based assay. Our in vivo tracking tools will be broadly relevant and not restricted to studying the in vivo biology of blood forming cells. These tools will help translate the promise of stem cells to cell based therapies to treat human disease.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
This project will help improve California economy as many of the vendors used for reagents and supplies are located in California. This project will also help create and maintain jobs for skilled personnel and helps train post-doctoral fellows who will become the next generation of stem cell scientists. The long-term goal of this project is to improve in vitro differentiation protocols to create transplantable blood forming stem cells for therapeutic use. If we, or others who will use our reporter lines generated in this study, achieve this goal, there will be new, theoretically unlimited sources of HLA-matched or patient specific blood stem cells that can be used for treating many serious blood diseases, including leukemias and inherited immunodeficiencies or anemias. Availability of patient specific blood stem cells for transplantation would be a major benefit in California, as there is currently limited availability of suitable bone marrow donors for individuals from mixed ethnic backgrounds.

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