Neurological Disorders

Coding Dimension ID: 
303
Coding Dimension path name: 
Neurological Disorders
Funding Type: 
Research Leadership
Grant Number: 
LA1-05735
Investigator: 
Name: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$5 609 890
Disease Focus: 
Spinal Cord Injury
Neurological Disorders
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 

One of the most exciting and challenging frontiers in neuroscience and medicine is to repair traumatic injuries to the central nervous system (CNS). Most spinal cord and head injuries result in devastating paralyses, yet very limited clinical intervention is currently available to restore the lost abilities. Traumatic injuries of the spine cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae, which in turn crush and destroy the axons, long processes of nerve cells that carry signals up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body. It follows that the best chance for promoting functional recovery is identifying strategies that enable lesioned axons to regenerate and reconnect the severed neural circuits. Even minor improvements in voluntary motor functions after spinal cord injury could be immensely helpful for increasing the quality of life, employability, and independence, especially for patients with injuries at the upper spinal level. Thus, our overall research program centers on axon regeneration in general, with a focus on regenerating descending axons from the brain that control voluntary motor and other functions.

We recently made breakthrough discoveries in identifying key biological mechanisms stimulating the re-growth of injured axons in the adult nervous system, which led to unprecedented extents of axon regeneration in various CNS injury models. While our success was compelling, we found that many regenerated axons were stalled at the lesion sites by the injury-induced glial scars. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the regenerated axons can form functional synaptic connections when they grow into the denervated spinal cord. This proposed research program is aimed at solving these obstacles by using human stem cell technologies. In the first aim, we will use human neural stem cells to engineer “permissive cell bridges” that can guide the maximum number of regenerating axons to grow across injury sites. In the second aim, we will test the therapeutic potential of human stem cell-derived neurons in forming “functional relays” that could propagate the brain-derived signals carried by regenerating axons to the injured spinal cord. Together, our research program is expected to develop a set of therapeutic strategies that have immediate clinical implications for human SCI patients.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Approximately 1.9% of the U.S. population, roughly 5,596,000 people, report some forms of paralysis; among whom, about 1,275,000 individuals are paralyzed due to spinal cord injuries (SCI). The disabilities and medical complications associated with SCI not only severely reduce the quality of life for the injured individuals, but also result in an estimated economical burden of $400,000,000 annually for the state of California in lost productivity and medical expenses. Traumatic injuries of the spine cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae, which in turn crush and destroy the axons, long processes of nerve cells that carry signals up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body. Thus, identifying strategies that enable lesioned axons to regenerate and reconnect the severed neural circuits is crucial for promoting functional recovery after SCI. In recent years, we made breakthrough discoveries in identifying key biological mechanisms stimulating the re-growth of injured axons in the adult nervous system. This proposed research program is aimed at developing human neural stem cell based therapeutic strategies that enable regenerated axons to grow through tissue cavities at the injury site, and establish functionally relays between the regenerating cortical axons and the spinal circuits below the injury site, thereby restore the lost sensory/motor functions in SCI patients. Success of these proposed studies could lead to immediate therapeutic applications for SCI patients. The first stem cell-based clinical trial for human SCI is started in California in which stem cells are used to provide support and stimulate remyelination. Our stem cell based therapeutic strategies are aimed at re-building neural connections, which will compliment the existing strategy nicely. As a result, Californians will be the first beneficiaries of these therapies.

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Development - Research
Grant Number: 
DR2A-05320
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$17 842 617
Disease Focus: 
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Other
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

This project aims to use a powerful combined neural progenitor cell and growth factor approach to treat patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). ALS is a devastating disease for which there is no treatment or cure. Progression from early muscle twitches to complete paralysis and death usually happens within 4 years. Every 90 minutes someone is diagnosed with ALS in the USA, and every 90 minutes someone dies from ALS. In California the death rate is one person every one and a half days. Human neural progenitor cells found early in brain development can be isolated and expanded in culture to large banks of billions of cell. When transplanted into animal models of ALS they have been shown to mature into support cells for dying motor neurons called astrocytes. In other studies, growth factors such as glial cell line-derived growth factor (or GDNF) have been shown to protect motor neurons from damage in a number of different animal models including ALS. However, delivering GDNF to the spinal cord has been almost impossible as it does not cross from the blood to the tissue of the spinal cord. The idea behind the current proposal is to modify human neural progenitor cells to produce GDNF and then transplant these cells into patients. There they act as “Trojan horses”, arriving at sick motor neurons and delivering the drug exactly where it is needed. A number of advances in human neural progenitor cell biology along with new surgical approaches have allowed us to create this disease team approach.
The focus of the proposal will be to perform essential preclinical studies in relevant preclinical animal models that will establish optimal doses and safe procedures for translating this progenitor cell and growth factor therapy into human patients. The Phase 1/2a clinical study will inject the cells into one side of the lumbar spinal cord (that supplies the legs with neural impulses) of 12 ALS patients from the state of California. The progression in the treated leg vs. the non treated leg will be compared to see if the cells slow down progression of the disease. This is the first time a combined progenitor cell and growth factor treatment has been explored for patients with ALS.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

ALS is a devastating disease, and also puts a large burden on state resources through the need of full time care givers and hospital equipment. It is estimated that the cost of caring for an ALS patient in the late stage of disease while on a respiration is $200,000-300,000 per year. While primarily a humanitarian effort to avoid suffering, this project will also ease the cost of caring for ALS patients in California if ultimately successful. As the first trial in the world to combine progenitor cell and gene transfer of a growth factor, it will make California a center of excellence for these types of studies. This in turn will attract scientists, clinicians, and companies interested in this area of medicine to the state of California thus increasing state revenue and state prestige in the rapidly growing field of Regenerative Medicine.

Progress Report: 
  • ALS is a devastating disease for which there is no treatment or cure. Death of motor neurons in the spinal cord responsible for muscle function, results in complete paralysis and death usually within 2-4 years following diagnosis. This project will transplant stem cells secreting the powerful growth factor GDNF into the spinal cord of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) do delay motor neuron death and thus treat the disease. In the first year we have (i) put together an outstanding team that have been able to begin the process of all pre clinical studies required to reach a new investigational drug (IND) filing within two years, (ii) generated a bank of research grade neural stem cells producing GDNF and developed manufacturing protocols at clinical grad level to produce the final lot of cells for the trial, (iii) performed complete dose ranging studies in a rat model of ALS to generate the first set of data showing safety and optimal doses for the cell product, (iv) optimized parameters to perform small and large animal safety studies required to take this work to the clinic and (v) assembled an outstanding team of clinicians and developed a world leading ALS clinic that is now preparing for patients to enter this trial. In the next year, we hope to complete the clinical grade lot of stem cells producing GDNF, to complete the remaining safety studies in rodent and pigs that will allow us to submit the IND application enabling a Phase 1/2a clinical study in 18 ALS patients from the state of California.
  • The goal of this project is to produce a clinical grade of human neural progenitor cells that are modified to release the powerful growth factor GDNF that protects dying motor neurons in the spinal cord. In year 2 of this project, we have significantly advanced all aspects of the study and overcome a major hurdle related to the production of the clinical grade human neural progenitor cells (our product that is called CNS10-NPC-GDNF). The challenge was to scale up our laboratory methods (where we produce only a few vials of the cells for lab use) to a clinical grade set of over 1000 vials. Thanks to a major collaborative effort with the City of Hope, many weeks of trouble shooting, and the tenacity of our own scientists, and the CIRM funding, we are happy to report that we now have a clinical grade lot of cells (1,200 vials) for use in all of our animal testing studies and the clinical trial itself. In addition we have now completed all of our dose ranging studies and demonstrated that transplantation CNS10-NPC-GDNF in the lumbar spinal cord of an ALS rat model has a neuroprotective effect on motor neurons at all doses investigated. During this year we have completed more pilot studies in the pig using a novel delivery device (developed by Cedars-Sinai) that will now be used to deliver the cells to the spinal cord of the patients in the trial and is currently moving though the regulatory pathway. Our ALS clinic has expanded rapidly over the past year and implemented more extensive patient testing using the new CIRM funded ATLAS chair to assess overall body strength. Given the size of our clinic we are now confident of recruiting enough patients within southern California to alter the trial from multi sites to a single site within California – Cedars-Sinai. This will allow a more focused approach and development of this novel treatment locally – with subsequent expansion to more sites. We have recruited more members of the clinical team to allow for this. Finally we have continued to present our results at meetings around the world and publish our data in the spirit of communicating this important work to both the scientific community and public.
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01785-B
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 614 441
Disease Focus: 
Spinal Cord Injury
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 

Injuries to the spinal cord commonly result from motor vehicle accidents, traumatic falls, diving, surfing, skiing, and snowboarding accidents, other forms of sports injuries, as well as from gunshot injuries in victims of violent crimes. Injuries to the anatomically lowest part of the spinal cord, the lumbosacral portion and its associated nerve roots commonly cause paralysis, loss of sensation, severe pain, as well as loss of bladder, bowel, and sexual function. Lumbosacral injuries represent approximately one-fifth of all traumatic lesions to the human spinal cord.

As a result of the direct injury to the lumbosacral portion of the spinal cord, there is degeneration and death of spinal cord nerve cells, which control muscles in the legs as well as bladder, bowel, and sexual function. No treatments are presently available in clinical practice to reverse the effects of these devastating injuries.

In order to reverse the loss of function after lumbosacral spinal cord injury, replacement of the lost nerve cells is required. Recent research studies have identified some properties that are shared by spinal cord neurons responsible for muscle and bladder control. Human embryonic stem cells can now be prepared in research laboratories to develop properties that are shared between nerve cells controlling muscle and bladder function. Such nerve cells are particularly at risk of degeneration and death as a result of injuries to the lumbosacral spinal cord. Human embryonic stem cells, which have undergone treatment to obtain properties of muscle and bladder controlling nerve cells, are now very attractive development candidates for new cell replacement therapies after lumbosacral spinal cord injuries. The proposed feasibility studies will study the properties of such cells in a clinically relevant rat model for lumbosacral spinal cord injuries.

In Specific Aim 1, we will determine whether ACUTE transplantation of human embryonic stem cells, which have been treated to develop properties of specific lumbosacral spinal cord neurons, may replace lost nerve cells and result in a return of bladder function in a rat model of lumbosacral spinal cord injury and repair.

In Specific Aim 2, we will determine whether DELAYED transplantation of human embryonic stem cells, which have been treated to develop properties of specific lumbosacral spinal cord neurons, may replace lost nerve cells and result in a return of bladder function in a rat model of lumbosacral spinal cord injury and repair.

A variety of functional studies will determine the effect of the cell transplantation on bladder function, walking, and pain. We will also use detailed anatomical studies to determine in microscopes whether the transplanted cells have grown processes to connect with pelvic target tissues, including the lower urinary tract. If successful, the proposed experiments may lead to a new treatment strategy for patients with lumbosacral spinal cord injuries.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

There are presently about 250,000 patients living with neurological impairments from spinal cord injuries (SCIs) in the United States, and approximately 11,000 new cases present every year. SCIs typically result in paralysis, loss of sensation, pain as well as bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction. No successful treatments are available to reverse the neurological deficits that result from SCI. Common causes for SCIs include car and motorcycle accidents, skiing, diving, surfing, and snow boarding injuries, traumatic falls, sports injuries, and acts of violence. California medical centers encounter a large proportion of the overall cases in the U.S. because of our large population, extensive network of freeways, and an active life style with recreational activities taking place both along the Californian coastline and in the mountains.

The proposed development candidate feasibility project will capitalize on recent progress in human stem cell science and surgical repair of conus medullaris/cauda equina (CM/CE) forms of SCI. Human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons and neuronal progenitors, which express the transcription factor Hb9, will be transplanted into the conus medullaris in attempts to replace lost motor and autonomic neurons after a lumbosacral ventral root avulsion injury in rats. Surgical replantation of avulsed lumbosacral ventral roots into the spinal cord will also be performed in this clinically relevant model for CM/CE injury and repair.

If successful, our development candidate may reinnervate muscles and pelvic organs, including the lower urinary tract after CM/CE forms of SCI. Return of functional bladder control represents one of the absolute top priorities among the spinal cord injured population (Anderson, J Neurotrauma, 2004; 21, 1371-83). Successful recovery of bladder function after SCI is expected to have very significant impact on the quality of life of spinal cord injured subjects and markedly reduce health care costs.

Recovery of bladder function in spinal cord injured subjects would markedly reduce or eliminate the need for intermittent bladder catheterizations and indwelling bladder catheters. The number of visits in physicians’ offices and already over-crowded California emergency rooms for bladder infections and other complications would be markedly reduced, thereby significantly reducing health care costs for both patients and our state. Improved neurological function among the SCI population is also expected to reduce care giver needs, thereby further reducing health care costs. The increased independence that will result from improved bladder control and concomitant possible recovery of other neurological functions, for instance in transfers and locomotion, will promote return to and participation in the work force for many individuals with SCI. These effects are also expected to bring a very positive effect to the California economy and increased quality of life for those living with an SCI.

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies II
Grant Number: 
RT2-01975
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 831 723
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Parkinson's Disease
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

The surgical tools currently available to transplant cells to the human brain are crude and underdeveloped. In current clinical trials, a syringe and needle device has been used to inject living cells into the brain. Because cells do not spread through the brain tissue after implantation, multiple brain penetrations (more than ten separate needle insertions in some patients) have been required to distribute cells in the diseased brain region. Every separate brain penetration carries a significant risk of bleeding and brain injury. Furthermore, this approach does not result in effective distribution of cells. Thus, our lack of appropriate surgical tools and techniques for clinical cell transplantation represents a significant roadblock to the treatment of brain diseases with stem cell based therapies. A more ideal device would be one that can distribute cells to large brain areas through a single initial brain penetration.

In rodents, cell transplantation has successfully treated a great number of different brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and stroke. However, the human brain is about 500 times larger than the mouse brain. While the syringe and needle transplantation technique works well in mice and rats, using this approach may not succeed in the much larger human brain, and this may result in failure of clinical trials for technical reasons.

We believe that the poor design of current surgical tools used for cell delivery is from inadequate interactions between basic stem cell scientists, medical device engineers, and neurosurgeons. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we will first use standard engineering principles to design, fabricate, refine, and validate an innovative cell delivery device that can transplant cells to a large region of the human brain through a single brain penetration. We will then test this new prototype in a large animal brain to ensure that the device is safe and effective. Furthermore, we will create a document containing engineering drawings, manufacturing instructions, surgical details, and preclinical data to ensure that this device is readily available for inclusion in future clinical trials.

By improving the safety and efficacy of cell delivery to the brain, the development of a superior device for cell transplantation may be a crucial step on the road to stem cell therapies for a wide range of brain diseases. In addition, devices and surgical techniques developed here may also be advantageous for use in other diseased organs.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The citizens of California have invested generously into stem cell research for the treatment of human diseases. While significant progress has been made in our ability to produce appropriate cell types in clinically relevant numbers for transplantation to the brain, these efforts to cure disease may fail because of our inability to effectively deliver the cells. Our proposed development of a superior device for cell transplantation may thus be a crucial step on the road to stem cell therapies for a wide range of brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, brain tumors, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and traumatic brain injury. Furthermore, devices and surgical techniques developed in our work may also be advantageous for use in other diseased organs. Thus, with successful completion of our proposal, the broad community of stem cell researchers and physician-scientists will gain access to superior surgical tools with which to better leverage our investment into stem cell therapy.

Progress Report: 
  • The surgical tools currently available to transplant cells to the human brain are crude and underdeveloped. In current clinical trials, a syringe and needle device has been used to inject living cells into the brain. Because cells do not spread through the brain tissue after implantation, multiple brain penetrations (more than ten separate needle insertions in some patients) have been required to distribute cells in the diseased brain region. Every separate brain penetration carries a significant risk of bleeding and brain injury. Furthermore, this approach does not result in effective distribution of cells. Thus, our lack of appropriate surgical tools and techniques for clinical cell transplantation represents a significant roadblock to the treatment of brain diseases with stem cell based therapies. A more ideal device would be one that can distribute cells to large brain areas through a single initial brain penetration.
  • In this first year of progress, we have designed, prototyped, and tested a stereotactic neurosurgical device capable of delivering cells to a volumetrically large target region through a single cortical brain penetration. We compared the performance of our device to a currently used cell transplantation implement – a 20G cannula with dual side ports. Through a single initial penetration, our device could transplant materials to a region greater than 4 cubic centimeters. Modeling with neurosurgical planning software indicated that our device could distribute cells within the entire human putamen – a target used in Parkinson’s disease trials – via a single transcortical penetration. While reflux of material along the penetration tract was problematic with the 20G cannula, resulting in nearly 80% loss of cell delivery, our device was resistant to reflux. We also innovated an additional system that facilitates small and precise volumes of injection. Both dilute and highly concentrated neural precursor cell populations tolerated transit through the device with high viability and unaffected developmental potential. Our device design is compatible with currently employed frame-based, frameless, and intraoperative MRI stereotactic neurosurgical targeting systems.
  • The surgical tools currently available to transplant cells to the human brain are crude and underdeveloped. In current clinical trials, a syringe and needle device has been used to inject living cells into the brain. Because cells do not spread through the brain tissue after implantation, multiple brain penetrations (more than ten separate needle insertions in some patients) have been required to distribute cells in the diseased brain region. Every separate brain penetration carries a significant risk of bleeding and brain injury. Furthermore, this approach does not result in effective distribution of cells. Thus, our lack of appropriate surgical tools and techniques for clinical cell transplantation represents a significant roadblock to the treatment of brain diseases with stem cell based therapies. A more ideal device would be one that can distribute cells to large and anatomically complex brain areas through a single initial brain penetration.
  • In the first year of progress, we designed, prototyped, and tested a stereotactic neurosurgical device capable of delivering cells to a volumetrically large target region through a single cortical brain penetration. We compared the performance of our device to a currently used cell transplantation implement – a 20G cannula with dual side ports. Through a single initial penetration, our device could transplant materials to a region greater than 4 cubic centimeters. Modeling with neurosurgical planning software indicated that our device could distribute cells within the entire human putamen – a target used in Parkinson’s disease trials – via a single transcortical penetration. While reflux of material along the penetration tract was problematic with the 20G cannula, resulting in nearly 80% loss of cell delivery, our device was resistant to reflux. We also innovated an additional system that facilitates small and precise volumes of injection. Both dilute and highly concentrated neural precursor cell populations tolerated transit through the device with high viability and unaffected developmental potential. Our device design is compatible with currently employed frame-based, frameless, and intraoperative MRI stereotactic (iMRI) neurosurgical targeting systems.
  • In this second year of progress, we have produced and tested the iMRI compatible version of our cell delivery device. The device components are fabricated from materials that are FDA-approved for use in medical devices, and we have assembled the device under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) conditions. Our device functions seamlessly with an FDA-approved stereotactic iMRI neurosurgical platform and computer-aided targeting system, and we have demonstrated that this iMRI-compatible system can deliver to the volume and shape of the human putamen through a single initial brain penetration. Thus, by using modern materials and manufacturing techniques, we have produced a neurosurgical device and technique that enables clinicians to “tailor” cell delivery to individual patient anatomical characteristics and specific disease states. This modern and “easy to use” platform technology furthermore allows “real-time” monitoring of cell delivery and unprecedented complication avoidance, increasing patient safety.
  • In this third year of progress, we have made final design refinements to the Radially Branched Deployment (RBD) cell transplantation device, which is fully compatible with currently employed interventional MRI stereotactic (iMRI) neurosurgical targeting systems. These design changes increase the "usability" of the device and enhance patient safety. The iMRI-guided RBD technology advances our ability to properly “tailor” the distribution of cell delivery to larger brain target volumes that vary in size and shape due to individual patient anatomy and different disease states. Furthermore, iMRI-guided RBD may increase patient safety by enabling intraoperative MRI monitoring. Importantly, this platform technology is easy-to-use and has a low barrier to implementation, as it can be performed “inside” essentially any typical diagnostic 1.5T MRI scanner found in most hospitals. We believe that this ease of access to the technology will facilitate the conduct of multi-site clinical trials and the future adoption of successful cellular therapies for patient care worldwide. In summary, by improving intracerebral cell delivery to the human brain, iMRI-guided RBD may have a transformative impact on the safety and efficacy of cellular therapeutics for a wide range of neurological disorders, helping ensure that basic science results are not lost in clinical translation.
  • Working with a California-based medical device manufacturer, we have developed manufacturing and testing procedures that are now being compiled into a design history file, which is a document required for eventual commercial use of the device. We are also working with an FDA regulatory consultant to prepare a 510K application to seek marketing clearance from the FDA.
  • We have developed a platform technology that enables Radially Branched Deployment (RBD) of cells to multiple target locations at variable radial distances and depths along the initial brain penetration tract with real-time interventional magnetic resonance image (iMRI) guidance. iMRI-guided RBD functions as an “add-on” to standard neurosurgical and imaging workflows, and procedures can be performed in a commonly available clinical MRI scanner. This new device has been demonstrated to be safe for procedures in large brains and functions at the scale of the human brain. Human embryonic stem cell-derived dopaminergic (hDA) neurons are compatible with the iMRI-guided RBD platform. Thus, iMRI-guided RBD overcomes some of the technical limitations inherent to the use of straight cannulas and standard stereotactic targeting. The device has been licensed to a California-based company, Accurexa, Inc., which is commercializing the technology for clinical use. This platform technology could have a major impact on the clinical translation of a wide range of cell therapeutics for the treatment of many neurological diseases.
Funding Type: 
Basic Biology V
Grant Number: 
RB5-07320
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$598 367
Disease Focus: 
Spinal Cord Injury
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 

Our goal is to use the mechanisms that generate neuronal networks to create neurons from stem cells, to either replace diseased and damaged tissue or as a source of material to study disease mechanisms. A key focus of such regenerative studies is to restore function to the spinal cord, which is particularly vulnerable to damage. However, although considerable progress has been made in understanding how to direct stem cells towards motor neurons that control coordinated movement, little progress has been made so far directing stem cells to form the sensory neurons that allow us to experience the environment around us.

Our proposed research will use insights from the mechanisms known to generate the sensory neurons during the development of the spinal cord, to derive these neurons from stem cells. We will initially use mouse embryonic stem cells in these studies, to accelerate the experimental progress. We will then apply our findings to human embryonic stem cells, and assess whether these cells are competent to repopulate the spinal cord. These studies will significantly advance our understanding of how to generate the full repertoire of neural subtypes necessary to repair the spinal cord after injury, specifically permitting patients to recover sensations such as pain and temperature. Moreover, they also represent a source of therapeutically beneficial cells for modeling debilitating diseases, such as the chronic insensitivity to pain.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Millions of Californians live with compromised nervous systems, damaged by either traumatic injury or disease. These conditions can be devastating, stripping patients of their ability to move, feel and think, and currently have no cure. As well as being debilitating for patients, living with these diseases is also extremely expensive, costing both Californians and the state of California many billions of dollars. For example, the estimated lifetime cost for a single individual managing spinal paralysis is estimated to be up to $3 million.

Stem cell technology offers tremendous hope for reversing or ameliorating both disease and injury states. Stem cells can be used to replenish any tissue damaged by injury or disease, including the spinal cord, which is particularly vulnerable to physical damage. Our proposed studies will develop the means to produce the spinal sensory neurons that permit us to perceive the environment. We will also determine whether these in vitro derived sensory neurons are suitable for transplantation back into the spinal cord. The generation of these neurons will constitute an important step towards reversing or ameliorating spinal injuries, and thereby improve the productivity and quality of life of many Californians. Moreover, progress in this field will solidify the leadership role of California in stem cell research and stimulate the future growth of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries within the state.

Progress Report: 
  • A promising strategy to treat neurodegenerative diseases is to use embryonic stem cell (ESC)-derived neurons to replace damaged or diseased populations of neurons. In our CIRM-funded studies, we proposed to establish a protocol that will derive spinal sensory interneurons (INs) from ESCs. These INs are required to reestablish the sensory connections that would allow an injured patient to perceive external stimuli, such as pain and temperature. The existence of in vitro derived spinal sensory INs would also accelerate studies examining the basis of debilitating spinal dysfunctions, such as congenital pain insensitivity.
  • We have made significant progress towards this goal in year 1. We have identified that specific members of the Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) family can direct mouse ESCs towards specific classes of spinal INs. These signals appear to be evolutionally conserved: our preliminary results suggest that BMPs have the same activity directing human ESCs towards spinal sensory IN fates. We are thus well poised to initiate our proposed studies in year 2: assessing whether stem cell derived INs can integrate in the spinal cord.
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01832
Investigator: 
Institution: 
Type: 
PI
Institution: 
Type: 
Partner-PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 835 983
Disease Focus: 
Genetic Disorder
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Collaborative Funder: 
Germany
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Canavan disease is a devastating disease of infants which affects their neural development and leads to mental retardation and early death. It occurs in 1 in 6,400 persons in the U.S. and there is no treatment so far. We propose to generate genetically-repaired and patient-specific stem cells (called iPSCs) from patients’ skin cells, and then coax these stem cells into specific types of corrective neural precursors using methods established in our laboratories in order to develop a therapeutic candidate for this disease. By use of a mouse model of Canavan disease, we will determine the ability of these genetically corrected cells to successfully treat the disease. These results will form the basis for an eventual clinical trial in humans, and if successful, would be the first treatment for this terrible disease.

There are many families affected by this disease, and other diseases similar to it. Results from this work could have applications to this and other similar genetic diseases. Through the proposed research, maybe no parents will have to watch their child suffer and die as a result of these dreadful diseases in one day. What a wonderful day that would be!

Statement of Benefit to California: 

It is estimated that California has ~12% of all cases of Canavan disease in the U.S. Besides the tremendous emotional and physical pain that this disease inflicts on families, it produces in California a medical and fiscal burden that is larger than any other states. Thus, there is a real need to develop a strategy of treatment for this disease. Stem cells provide great hope for the treatment of a variety of human diseases that affect the citizens of California. Combination of gene therapy and iPSC technology will enable the development of therapeutic candidates of human genetic diseases via the creation of genetically-corrected patient-specific iPSCs. Our proposal aims to establish a therapeutic development candidate for Canavan disease, a devastating neurodegenerative disease that leads to mental retardation and early death. The generation of genetically-repaired and patient-specific iPSC lines will represent great potential not only for California health care patients but also for pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries in California. Moreover, California is a strong leader in pre-clinical and clinical research developments. To maintain this position, we need to create patient-specific stem cells as autologous therapeutic candidates, in order to overcome the challenges of immune rejection faced by today’s cell therapy field. This proposal addresses the very issue by generating “disease-corrected” and patient-specific iPSCs as a therapeutic candidate with the potential to create safer and more effective cell replacement therapies.

Progress Report: 
  • Canavan disease is a devastating disease of infants which affects their neural development and leads to mental retardation and early death. It occurs in 1 in 6,400 persons in the U.S. and there is no treatment so far. We propose to generate genetically-repaired and patient-specific stem cells (called iPSCs) from patients’ skin cells, and then coax these stem cells into specific types of corrective neural precursors using methods established in our laboratories in order to develop a therapeutic candidate for this disease.
  • For the reporting period, we have obtained primary dermal fibroblasts from clinically affected Canavan disease patients and have derived Canavan disease patient iPSCs. We have demonstrated that these iPSCs exhibited typical human embryonic stem cell (ESC) like morphology, expressed human ESC cell surface markers and hold pluripotency potential. We are also optimizing methods to coax these cells into specific types of neural precursors. Either the patient iPSCs or their neural precursor derivatives will be genetically corrected in the following years to develop a therapeutic tool for Canavan disease patients.
  • There are many families affected by this disease, and other diseases similar to it. Results from this work could have applications to this and other similar genetic diseases. Through the proposed research, maybe no parents will have to watch their child suffer and die as a result of these dreadful diseases in one day.
  • Canavan disease is a devastating disease of infants which affects their neural development and leads to mental retardation and early death. It occurs in 1 in 6,400 persons in the U.S. and there is no treatment so far. We propose to generate genetically-repaired and patient-specific stem cells (called iPSCs) from patients’ skin cells, and then coax these stem cells into specific types of corrective neural precursors using methods established in our laboratories in order to develop a therapeutic candidate for this disease.
  • For the reporting period, we have demonstrated that the Canavan disease patient iPSCs hold pluripotency potential. We also genetically corrected the patient iPSCs and demonstrated that these genetically-corrected cells maintained human embryonic stem cell-like features. We coaxed these cells into specific types of neural precursors and showed that the genetically-corrected patient cells restored their cellular function. These genetically corrected cells will be tested for their therapeutic effect in the next year, in order to develop a therapeutic tool for Canavan disease patients.
  • There are many families affected by this disease, and other diseases similar to it. Results from this work could have applications to this and other similar genetic diseases. Through the proposed research, maybe no parents will have to watch their child suffer and die as a result of these dreadful diseases in one day.
  • Canavan disease is a devastating disease of infants which affects their neural development and leads to mental retardation and early death. It occurs in 1 in 6,400 persons in the U.S. and there is no treatment so far. We propose to generate genetically-repaired and patient-specific stem cells (called iPSCs) from patients’ skin cells, and then coax these stem cells into specific types of corrective neural precursors using methods established in our laboratories in order to develop a therapeutic candidate for this disease.
  • We have demonstrated that the Canavan disease patient iPSCs hold pluripotency potential. We also genetically corrected the patient iPSCs and demonstrated that these genetically-corrected cells maintained human embryonic stem cell-like features. We coaxed these cells into specific types of neural precursors and showed that the genetically-corrected patient cells restored their cellular function.
  • For the reporting period, we provided evidence that the genetically-corrected patient iPSC-derived neural precursors were able to produce myelin binding protein in an animal model. We also characterized the Canavan disease mice to show that they exhibited the characteristic Canavan disease patient phenotypes. The genetically corrected cells will be tested in Canavan disease mice for their therapeutic effect in the next funding period, in order to develop a therapeutic tool for Canavan disease patients.
  • There are many families affected by this disease, and other diseases similar to it. Results from this work could have applications to this and other similar genetic diseases. Through the proposed research, maybe no parents will have to watch their child suffer and die as a result of these dreadful diseases in one day.
  • Canavan disease is a devastating disease of infants which affects their neural development and leads to mental retardation and early death. It occurs in 1 in 6,400 persons in the U.S. and there is no treatment so far. We propose to generate genetically-repaired and patient-specific stem cells (called iPSCs) from patients’ skin cells, and then coax these stem cells into specific types of corrective neural precursors using methods established in our laboratories in order to develop a therapeutic candidate for this disease.
  • We have demonstrated that the Canavan disease patient iPSCs hold pluripotency potential. We also genetically corrected the patient iPSCs and demonstrated that these genetically-corrected cells maintained human embryonic stem cell-like features. We coaxed these cells into specific types of neural precursors and showed that the genetically-corrected patient cells restored their cellular function.
  • For the reporting period, we characterized the Canavan disease mice to show that they exhibited the characteristic Canavan disease patient phenotypes. We then tested the genetically corrected cells in the Canavan disease mice for their therapeutic effect. We found that the genetically corrected cells were able to survive in the transplanted brains and express the correct lineage marker. Moreover, these cells were able to rescue the major phenotypes that are characteristic of Canavan disease patients in the transplanted mice. Our results convincingly demonstrated that the genetically corrected patient iPSC-derived cells have the potential to serve as a therapeutic tool for Canavan disease patients.
  • There are many families affected by this disease, and other diseases similar to it. Results from this work could have applications to this and other similar genetic diseases. Through the proposed research, maybe no parents will have to watch their child suffer and die as a result of these dreadful diseases in one day.
Funding Type: 
Tissue Collection for Disease Modeling
Grant Number: 
IT1-06589
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$643 693
Disease Focus: 
Alzheimer's Disease
Neurological Disorders
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Alzheimer's Disease (AD), the most common form of dementia in the elderly, affects over 5 million Americans. There are no treatments to slow progression or prevent AD. This reflects limitations in knowledge of mechanisms underlying AD, and in tools and models for early development and testing of treatment. Genetic breakthroughs related to early onset AD led to initial treatment targets related to a protein called amyloid, but clinical trials have been negative. Extensive research links genetic risk to AD, even when the age at onset is after the age of 65. AD affects the brain alone, therefore studying authentic nerve cells in the laboratory should provide the clearest insights into mechanisms and targets for treatment. This has recently become feasible due to advances in programming skin cells into stem cells and then growing (differentiating) them into nerve cells. In this project we will obtain skin biopsies from a total of 220 people with AD and 120 controls, who are extensively studied at the [REDACTED] AD Research Center. These studies include detailed genetic (DNA) analysis, which will allow genetic risks to be mapped onto reprogrammed cells. These derived cells that preserve the genetic background of the person who donated the skin biopsy will be made available to the research community, and have the promise to accelerate studies of mechanisms of disease, understanding genetic risk, new treatment targets, and screening of new treatments for this devastating brain disorder.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The proposed project will provide a unique and valuable research resource, which will be stored and managed in California. This resource will consist of skin cells or similar biological samples, suitable for reprogramming, obtained from well-characterized patients with Alzheimer's Disease and cognitively healthy elderly controls. Its immediate impact will be to benefit CIRM-funded researchers as well as the greater research community, by providing them access to critical tools to study, namely nerve cells that can be grown in a dish (cultured) that retain the genetic background of the skin cell donors. This technology to develop and reprogram cells into nerve cells or other cell types results from breakthroughs in stem cell research, many of which were developed using CIRM funding. Alzheimer's Disease affects over 600,000 Californians, and lacks effective treatment. Research into mechanisms of disease, identifying treatment targets, and screening novel drugs will be greatly improved and accelerated through the availability of the resources developed by this project, which could have a major impact on the heath of Californians. California is home to world class academic and private research institutes, Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Companies, many of whom are already engaged in AD research. This project could provide them with tools to make research breakthroughs and pioneer the development of novel treatments for AD.

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-02129
Investigator: 
Name: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 382 400
Disease Focus: 
Autism
Neurological Disorders
Rett's Syndrome
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Stem cells, including human embryonic stem cells, provide extraordinary new opportunities to model human diseases and may serve as platforms for drug screening and validation. Especially with the ever-improving effective and safe methodologies to produce genetically identical human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), increasing number of patient-specific iPSCs will be generated, which will enormously facilitate the disease modeling process. Also given the advancement in human genetics in defining human genetic mutations for various disorders, it is becoming possible that one can quickly start with discovery of disease-related genetic mutations to produce patient-specific iPSCs, which can then be differentiated into the right cell type to model for the disease in vitro, followed by setting up the drug screening paradigms using such disease highly relevant cells. In the context of neurological disorders, both synaptic transmission and gene expression can be combined for phenotyping and phenotypic reversal screening and in vitro functional (synaptic transmission) reversal validation. The missing gap for starting with the genetic mutation to pave the way to drug discovery and development is in vivo validation-related preclinical studies. In order to fill this gap, in this application we are proposing to use Rett syndrome as a proof of principle, to establish human cell xenografting paradigm and perform optogenetics and in vivo recording or functional MRI (fMRI), to study the neurotransmission/connectivity characteristics of normal and diseased human neurons. Our approach will be applicable to many other human neurological disease models and will allow for a combination of pharmacokinetic, and in vivo toxicology work together with the in vivo disease phenotypic reversal studies, bridging the gap between cell culture based disease modeling and drug screening to in vivo validation of drug candidates to complete the cycle of preclinical studies, paving the way to clinical trials. A success of this proposed study will have enormous implications to complete the path of using human pluripotent stem cells to build novel paradigms for a complete drug development process.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Rett Syndrome (RTT) is a progressive neurodevelopmental disorder caused by primarily loss-of-function mutations in the X-linked MeCP2 gene. It mainly affects females with an incidence of about 1 in 10,000 births. After up to 18 months of apparently normal development, children with RTT develop severe neurological symptoms including motor defects, mental retardation, autistic traits, seizures and anxiety. RTT is one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) that affects many children in California. In this application, we propose to use our hESC-based Rett syndrome (RTT) model as a proof-of-principle case to define a set of core transcriptome that can be used for drug screenings. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) hold great potential for cell replacement therapy where cells are lost due to disease or injury. For the diseases of the central nervous system, hESC-derived neurons could be used for repair. This approach requires careful characterization of hESCs prior to utilizing their therapeutic potentials. Unfortunately, most of the characterization of hESCs are performed in vitro when disease models are generated using hESC-derived neurons. In this application, using RTT as a proof of principle study, we will bridge the gap and perform in vivo characterization of transplanted normal and RTT human neurons. Our findings will not only benefit RTT and other ASD patients, but also subsequently enable broad applications of this approach in drug discovery using human pluripotent stem cell-based disease models to benefit the citizens of California in a broader spectrum.

Progress Report: 
  • The potential of stem cells, such as human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), has been widely recognized for cell replacement therapy, modeling human diseases and serving as a platform for drug screening and validation. In this grant, we proposed to use Rett syndrome as a proof of principle, to establish a human cell xenografting paradigm (i.e., transplanting human cells into mouse/rat embryos) and perform in vivo analyses to study the neurotransmission characteristics of normal and diseased human neurons. We initially determined that it was feasible to use the lentiviral CamKII-ChR2 construct to drive excitatory neuronal-specific expression of ChR2 in mouse hippocampal pyramidal neurons as well as human embryonic stem cell derived neurons. Importantly, we have found that both ChR2 expressing mouse hippocampal neurons and human neurons derived from embryonic stem cells can spike action potentials when stimulated in vitro, indicating that exogenously expressed ChR2 is functional. Furthermore, we successfully transplanted human embryonic stem cell derived neural stem/progenitor cells into fetal rat forebrain at embryonic day 17. Our analysis of the recipient animals at postnatal day 21 showed that approximately 40-50% of the cells survived and began to express neuronal markers, such as NeuN, indicating the neuronal differentiation, as well as the long-term survival, of transplanted human cells in the recipient animals. As originally proposed, we will proceed with the documentation of the in vivo phenotype of Rett syndrome diseased neurons. Our approach will be particularly crucial to not only validate candidate drugs or other therapeutic interventions to treat Rett syndrome using xeno-transplanted human Rett neurons, but also to study the in vivo behavior of those neurons with and without the therapeutic intervention.
  • Stem cells, such as human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), carry great potentials for cell replacement therapy, human diseases modeling and drug screenings. We proposed to use Rett syndrome (RTT) as a proof of principle, to establish a human cell xenografting paradigm (i.e., transplanting human cells into mouse/rat brains) to study the function of normal and diseased human neurons in vivo. During the 2nd year of funding, we gained new insights into the electrophysiological characteristics of RTT neurons. Specifically, we found that the neurotransmission phenotype of neurons derived from RTT patient-specific iPSCs was highly circuitry-dependent. On the other hand, when cell-intrinsic electrophysiological properties were measured, extremely stable abnormalities in action potential profiles, resting membrane potentials, etc. were observed, indicative of the validity of the culture system. Given that currently scientists have very limited control over the features of neuronal connections formed in culture conditions, our findings make the in vivo assessment of RTT neuronal properties even more desirable, because the circuitry features are more amenable in vivo, with anatomical cues. In light of aforementioned in vitro findings, we focused our attention to both cell-intrinsic electrophysiological characteristics of RTT neurons, as well as their connectivity or neural network properties, after neurons were integrated into host circuits in vivo following xenotransplantation. Our preliminary data demonstrated that the action-potential abnormalities of RTT neurons are preserved in vivo after xenotransplantation. So far we have established a relatively optimized system for studying human iPSC-derived RTT neurons integrated into mouse brains. We are poised to uncover not only the neuronal intrinsic electrophysiological properties but also the connectivity of wild type and RTT neurons with host circuits. Moreover, we have made substantial progress with regards to a novel technology, i.e., single neuron gene expression profiling coupled with electrophysiological recordings both in vitro and in vivo. Up to now, 8 RTT iPSC-derived neurons were profiled via RNA sequencing following electrophysiological recordings, and some interesting clues have already been revealed. Currently we are collecting more neurons and we expect to make unprecedented discoveries with mechanistic insights into RTT disease pathophysiology, which will facilitate the development of novel therapies for RTT. This paradigm is also generally applicable for studying other neurological disorders.
  • Over the last decade, the importance of the stem cells for cell replacement therapy, human disease modeling and drug toxicity/therapy screenings has been greatly appreciated by both the general public and the scientific community. In our application utilizing human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), we proposed to use Rett syndrome (RTT) as a proof of principle to establish a human cell xenografting paradigm (i.e., transplanting human cells into mouse/rat brains) to study the function of normal and diseased human neurons in vivo. While we increased our knowledge about the electrophysiological characteristics of RTT neurons during Year 2 funding, we mainly focused on the transplantation of the normal and diseased cells, as well as the molecular signatures of transplanted cells at a single cell level, during Year 3 of the funding period. Following our initial transplantation experiments, we observed clustering of the transplanted cells at the injection site, even though there were number of cells integrating into the host brains. In order to circumvent this problem and answer our original questions, we developed an alternative approach. Specifically, we adopted the “transparent brain” methodology to better visualize the integration and the projections of the transplanted cells, as well as the circuitries that they participate, in the host environment to reveal the connectivity of wild type and RTT neurons with the host circuits. With this method, we’re able to follow the transplanted RTT neurons at a higher resolution -without the limitations of the conventional approaches- for studying human iPSC-derived RTT neurons integrated into mouse brains. As part of our last Specific Aim, we’ve performed single neuron gene expression profiling coupled with electrophysiological recordings both in vitro and in vivo. Specifically, we implemented electrophysiological recordings from the transplanted RTT iPSC-derived neurons and isolated the genomic material from the same cell to perform transcriptome analyses. We collected significant amount of data from RNA sequencing experiments and have been performing relevant bioinformatic analyses. In order to complete the gene expression profiling analysis, we obtained a no-cost-extension of the project, and upon completion of the no-cost-extension period, the relevant report will be filed outlining the outcomes of the single neuron transcriptome analysis coupled with electrophysiology. Collectively, our findings provide mechanistic insights into RTT disease pathophysiology, which will facilitate the development of novel therapies for RTT. Lastly, our approach is applicable for studying other neurological disorders in addition to RTT.
Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Development - Research
Grant Number: 
DR2A-05416
Investigator: 
Institution: 
Type: 
PI
Type: 
Co-PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$20 000 000
Disease Focus: 
Alzheimer's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the leading cause of dementia, results in profound loss of memory and cognitive function, and ultimately death. In the US, someone develops AD every 69 seconds and there are over 5 million individuals suffering from AD, including approximately 600,000 Californians. Current treatments do not alter the disease course. The absence of effective therapies coupled with the sheer number of affected patients renders AD a medical disorder of unprecedented need and a public health concern of significant magnitude. In 2010, the global economic impact of dementias was estimated at $604 billion, a figure far beyond the costs of cancer or heart disease. These numbers do not reflect the devastating social and emotional tolls that AD inflicts upon patients and their families. Efforts to discover novel and effective treatments for AD are ongoing, but unfortunately, the number of active clinical studies is low and many traditional approaches have failed in clinical testing. An urgent need to develop novel and innovative approaches to treat AD is clear.

We propose to evaluate the use of human neural stem cells as a potential innovative therapy for AD. AD results in neuronal death and loss of connections between surviving neurons. The hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, is particularly affected in AD, and is thought to underlie the memory problems AD patients encounter. Evidence from animal studies shows that transplanting human neural stem cells into the hippocampus improves memory, possibly by providing growth factors that protect neurons from degeneration. Translating this approach to humans could markedly restore memory and thus, quality of life for patients.

The Disease Team has successfully initiated three clinical trials involving transplantation of human neural stem cells for neurological disorders. These trials have established that the cells proposed for this therapeutic approach are safe for transplantation into humans. The researchers in this Disease Team have shown that AD mice show a dramatic improvement in memory skills following both murine and human stem cell transplantation. With proof-of-concept established in these studies, the Disease Team intends to conduct the animal studies necessary to seek authorization by the FDA to start testing this therapeutic approach in human patients.

This project will be conducted as a partnership between a biotechnology company with unique experience in clinical trials involving neural stem cell transplantation and a leading California-based academic laboratory specializing in AD research. The Disease Team also includes expert clinicians and scientists throughout California that will help guide the research project to clinical trials. The combination of all these resources will accelerate the research, and lead to a successful FDA submission to permit human testing of a novel approach for the treatment of AD; one that could enhance memory and save lives.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The number of AD patients in the US has surpassed 5.4 million, and the incidence may triple by 2050. Roughly 1 out of every 10 patients with AD, over 550,000, is a California resident, and alarmingly, because of the large number of baby-boomers that reside in this state, the incidence is expected to more than double by 2025. Besides the personal impact of the diagnosis on the patient, the rising incidence of disease, both in the US and California, imperils the federal and state economy.

The dementia induced by AD disconnects patients from their loved ones and communities by eroding memory and cognitive function. Patients gradually lose their ability to drive, work, cook, and carry out simple, everyday tasks, ultimately losing all independence. The quality of life for AD patients is hugely diminished and the burden on their families and caregivers is extremely costly to the state of California. Annual health care costs are estimated to exceed $172 billion, not including the additional costs resulting from the loss of income and physical and emotional stress experienced by caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. Given that California is the most populous state and the state with the highest number of baby-boomers, AD’s impact on California families and state finances is proportionally high and will only increase as the AD prevalence rises.

Currently, there is no cure for AD and no means of prevention. Most approved therapies address only symptomatic aspects of AD and no disease-modifying approaches are currently available. By enacting Proposition 71, California voters acknowledged and supported the need to investigate the potential of novel stem cell-based therapies to treat diseases with a significant unmet medical need such as AD.

In a disease like AD, any therapy that exerts even a modest impact on the patient's ability to carry out daily activities will have an exponential positive effect not only for the patients but also for their families, caregivers, and the entire health care system. We propose to evaluate the hypothesis that neural stem cell transplantation will delay the progression of AD by slowing or stabilizing loss of memory and related cognitive skills. A single, one-time intervention may be sufficient to delay progression of neuronal degeneration and preserve functional levels of memory and cognition; an approach that offers considerable cost-efficiency.

The potential economic impact of this type of therapeutic research in California could be significant, and well worth the investment of this disease team proposal. Such an approach would not only reduce the high cost of care and improve the quality of life for patients, it would also make California an international leader in a pioneering approach to AD, yielding significant downstream economic benefits for the state.

Progress Report: 
  • Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the leading cause of dementia, results in profound loss of memory and cognitive function, and ultimately death. In the US, someone develops AD every 69 seconds and there are over 5 million individuals suffering from AD, including approximately 600,000 Californians. Current treatments do not alter the disease course. The absence of effective therapies coupled with the sheer number of affected patients renders AD a medical disorder of unprecedented need and a public health concern of significant magnitude. In 2010, the global economic impact of dementias was estimated at $604 billion, a figure far beyond the costs of cancer or heart disease. These numbers do not reflect the devastating social and emotional tolls that AD inflicts upon patients and their families. Efforts to discover novel and effective treatments for AD are ongoing, but unfortunately, the number of active clinical studies is low and many traditional approaches have failed in clinical testing. An urgent need to develop novel and innovative approaches to treat AD is clear.
  • We have proposed to evaluate the use of human neural stem cells as a potential innovative therapy for AD. AD results in neuronal death and loss of connections between surviving neurons. The hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, is particularly affected in AD, and is thought to underlie the memory problems AD patients encounter. Evidence from previous animal studies shows that transplanting human neural stem cells into the hippocampus improves memory, possibly by providing growth factors that protect neurons from degeneration. Translating this approach to humans could markedly restore memory and thus, quality of life for patients.
  • In the first year of the loan, the Disease Team actively worked on 5 important milestones in our effort to develop the use of human neural stem cells for AD. Of those, 2 milestones have been completed and 3 are ongoing. Specifically, the team has initiated three animal studies believed necessary to seek authorization by the FDA to start testing this therapeutic approach in human patients; these studies were designed to confirm that transplantation of the neural stem cells leads to improved memory in animal models relevant for AD. We are currently collecting and analyzing the data generated in these mouse studies. We have also identified the neural stem cell line that will be used in patients and have made considerable progress in its manufacturing and banking. Finally, we have held a pre-IND meeting with the FDA in which we shared our plans for the preclinical and clinical studies; the meeting provided helpful guidance and assurances regarding our IND enabling activities.
  • This project is a partnership between a biotechnology company with unique experience in clinical trials involving neural stem cell transplantation and a leading California-based academic laboratory specializing in AD research. Together with expert clinicians and scientists throughout California, we continue to work towards a successful IND submission to permit human testing of a novel and unique approach for the treatment of AD.
  • Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the leading cause of dementia, results in profound loss of memory and cognitive function, and ultimately death. In the United States, someone develops AD every 69 seconds and there are over 5 million individuals suffering from AD, including approximately 600,000 Californians. Current treatments do not alter the disease course. The absence of effective therapies coupled with the sheer number of affected patients renders AD a medical disorder of unprecedented need and a public health concern of significant magnitude. Efforts to discover effective treatments for AD are ongoing, but unfortunately, the number of active clinical studies is low and many traditional approaches have failed in clinical testing. An urgent need to develop novel and innovative approaches to treat AD is urgent.
  • StemCells Inc., proposed to evaluate the use of human neural stem cells as a potential innovative therapy for AD. AD results in neuronal death and loss of connections between surviving neurons. The hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, is particularly affected in AD. Evidence from previous animal studies shows that transplanting human neural stem cells into the hippocampus improves memory, possibly by providing growth factors that protect neurons from degeneration. Translating this approach to humans could markedly restore memory and thus, quality of life for patients.
  • In September 2012, the CIRM awarded a loan to StemCells Inc. to partially fund a program to test human neural stem cells in two animal models used by some researchers to study AD and the study was initiated in July of 2013. The goal of this study was chiefly to try to replicate earlier successful experiments with human neural stem cells in these mice in support of an IND filing with the U.S. FDA within four years.
  • In the first year of the study, the Disease Team actively worked on 5 important scientific milestones in our effort to develop human neural stem cells as a potential therapy for AD. We also held a pre-IND meeting with the FDA in which we shared our plans for the preclinical and clinical studies in AD; the meeting provided helpful guidance and assurances regarding our IND enabling activities.
  • As of the second year of the study, all of the first 5 scientific milestones have been completed. Specifically, the team conducted three animal studies believed necessary to start testing this therapeutic approach in human patients; these studies were designed to confirm that transplantation of the neural stem cells leads to improved memory in animal models relevant for AD.
  • Despite seeing a very exciting increase in the number of connections between key hippocampal neurons within the brains of mice treated with human neural stem cells, this did not appear to robustly and consistently improve memory in the animals. Without seeing a significant change in memory performance, the preclinical results of the study did not satisfy one or more of the specific “No/No Go” scientific milestones agreed to with the CIRM. Given this, the loan was subsequently terminated in December 2014 as a consequence of the unanticipated preclinical results.
  • This study was a partnership between a biotechnology company with unique experience in clinical trials involving neural stem cell transplantation and a leading California-based academic laboratory specializing in AD research. Although disappointing, the results of this study do not negate the potential of neural stem cell transplantation in AD; rather, having reviewed and discussed the data with our collaborators, we believe the data highlight the challenge of obtaining reliable and consistent behavior readouts of memory improvement in animals. Finally, the observed increases in the connections between hippocampal neurons are very interesting and may justify further efforts to improve pre-clinical development for this complex disorder.
Funding Type: 
Shared Labs
Grant Number: 
CL1-00501-1.2
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$5 893 682
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Age-related diseases of the nervous system are major challenges for biomedicine in the 21st century. These disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, cause loss of neural tissue and functional impairment. Currently, there is no cure for these devastating neurological disorders. A promising approach to the treatment of age-related neurological disorders is cell therapy, i.e., transplantation of nerve cells into the brain or spinal cord to replace lost cells and restore function. Work in this field has been limited however, due to the limited availability of cells for transplantation. For example, cells from 6-10 human fetuses obtained 6-10 weeks post-conception are required for one patient with Parkinson’s disease to undergo transplantation.

Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer a potentially unlimited source of any cell type that may be required for cell replacement therapy, due to their remarkable ability to self-renew (they can divide indefinitely in culture) and to develop into any cell type in the body. In this proposal, we will build out approximately 3400 square feet of shared laboratory space within our existing research facility for hESC research, as well as approximately 2400 square feet for classroom facilities dedicated to training in hESC culture and manipulation. We seek to understand how hESCs differentiate into authentic, clinically useful nerve cells and will use novel molecular tools to examine the behavior of cells transplanted in animal models of human neurological disease. We will also need to develop a noninvasive method of following cells after transplantation and we propose to develop luciferase-tagged (light-emitting) hESC lines for in vivo animal imaging. In addition, we will use hESC-derived nerve cells to screen drug and chemical libraries for compounds that protect nerve cells from toxicity, and to develop in vitro disease models. We believe that these experiments are critical to enhancing our understanding of neurological diseases and providing the tools that will be necessary to move cell therapy to the clinic.

Before a hESC-based therapy can be developed, it is essential to train scientists to efficiently grow, maintain and manipulate these cells. We propose to teach four 5-day hands-on training courses – two basic and two advanced hESC culture courses per year – to California scientists free of charge. These courses will provide scientists with an understanding of hESC biology and will enable them to set up and conduct hESC research after completion of training.

In summary, the goal of this proposal is to provide over twenty investigators at the home institute and neighboring institutions with the ability to culture, differentiate, and genetically manipulate hESCs – including clinical-grade hESC lines – to develop diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

We propose to build a Shared Research Laboratory and offer a Stem Cell Techniques Course for over twenty principal investigators at the home institute and neighboring institutes working collaboratively on stem-cell biology and neurological diseases of aging. We propose to: 1) Purify nerve cells at different stages of maturation from human embryonic stem cells and to develop transplantation strategies in animal models that mimic human diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, stroke and spinal cord injuries; 2) Screen drug and chemical libraries for reagents that protect nerve cells from toxicity and develop in vitro disease models using nerve cells generated from human embryonic stem cells; and 3) Assess the long-term integration and differentiation of transplanted cells using a non-invasive imaging system.

We believe these experiments provide not only a blueprint for moving stem-cell transplantation for Parkinson’s disease toward the clinic, but also a generalized plan for how stem-cell therapy can be developed to treat disorders like motor neuron disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and spinal cord injury. As the only stem-cell research facility in California’s 10-12 most northwest counties, we are uniquely positioned to extend the promised benefits of Proposition 71 to this large part of the state. The tools and reagents we develop will be made widely available to California researchers and we will select California-based companies for commercialization of any therapies that may result. We also hope that California-based physicians will be at the forefront of translating this promising avenue of research into clinical applications. Finally, we expect that the money expended on this research will benefit the California research and business communities, and that the tools and reagents we develop will help accelerate stem-cell research in California and worldwide.

Progress Report: 
  • Age-related diseases of the nervous system are major challenges for biomedicine in the 21st century. These disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, cause loss of neural tissue and functional impairment. Currently, there is no cure for these devastating neurological disorders. A promising approach to the treatment of age-related neurological disorders is cell therapy, i.e., transplantation of nerve cells into the brain or spinal cord to replace lost cells and restore function. Work in this field has been limited however, due to the limited availability of cells for transplantation. For example, cells from 6-10 human fetuses obtained 6-10 weeks post-conception are required for one patient with Parkinson’s disease to undergo transplantation. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer a potentially unlimited source of any cell type that may be required for cell replacement therapy, due to their remarkable ability to self-renew (they can divide indefinitely in culture) and to develop into any cell type in the body.
  • Funded by CIRM, we have built out approximately 3400 square feet of shared laboratory space within our existing research facility for hESC research, as well as approximately 2400 square feet for classroom facilities dedicated to training in hESC culture and manipulation. Supported by this facility, we have in the past year successfully developed a process for the production of functional dopaminergic neurons from hESCs that are suitable for potential clinical uses, e.g., in treating Parkinson’s disease (Parkinson’s disease is caused by the death of dopaminergic neurons). Our system provides a path to a scalable Good Manufacture Practice (GMP)-applicable process of generation of dopaminergic neurons from hESCs for therapeutic applications, and a ready source of large numbers of neurons for potential drug screening applications. In addition, we have developed a screening strategy that allows us to rapidly identify clinically approved drugs for use in GMP protocol that can be safely used to deplete unwanted contaminating precursor cells from dopaminergic neurons, a target for cell therapy.
  • Before a hESC-based therapy can be developed, it is essential to train scientists to efficiently grow, maintain and manipulate these cells. We have taught two types of hands-on training courses in the past year with more than 30 scientists across California participated: a basic 5-day hESC culture course and an advanced 5-day hESC culture course, to meet the diverse needs of California scientists. These courses provided scientists with an understanding of hESC biology and enabled them to set up and conduct hESC research after completion of training.
  • Age-related diseases of the nervous system are major challenges for biomedicine in the 21st century. These disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, cause loss of neural tissue and functional impairment. Currently, there is no cure for these devastating neurological disorders. A promising approach to the treatment of age-related neurological disorders is cell therapy, i.e., transplantation of nerve cells into the brain or spinal cord to replace lost cells and restore function. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) offer a potentially unlimited source of any cell type that may be required for cell replacement therapy, due to their remarkable ability to self-renew (they can divide indefinitely in culture) and to develop into any cell type in the body.
  • Funded by CIRM, we have built out approximately 3400 square feet of shared laboratory space within our existing research facility for hESC research, as well as approximately 2400 square feet for classroom facilities dedicated to training in hESC culture and manipulation. In the past year, the facility has supported over a dozen regional investigators seeking expertise in ESC/iPSC techniques. The Shared Lab maintains an average of 10 hESC and/or iPSC lines for investigators both inside and outside the Buck Institute. The facility also routinely generates neural stem cells (NSCs) from both the hESC and iPSC lines and the NSC lines have been used by many of the investigators for differentiation studies. In addition, the Shared Lab has created several genetically modified hESC lines (e.g., GFP-labeled cells) and developed techniques for efficient transfection of hESCs and their differentiated derivatives. These lines and techniques are made available for all investigators and have been used by several of them for studies of aging-related process.
  • Before a hESC-based therapy can be developed, it is essential to train scientists to efficiently grow, maintain and manipulate these cells. We have taught two types of hands-on training courses in the past year with more than 30 scientists across California participated: a basic 5-day hESC culture course and an advanced 5-day hESC culture course, to meet the diverse needs of California scientists. These courses provided scientists with an understanding of hESC biology and enabled them to set up and conduct hESC research after completion of training.
  • Age-related diseases of the nervous system are major challenges for biomedicine in the 21st century. These disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, cause loss of neural tissue and functional impairment. Currently, there is no cure for these devastating neurological disorders. A promising approach to the treatment of age-related neurological disorders is cell therapy, i.e., transplantation of nerve cells into the brain or spinal cord to replace lost cells and restore function. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) offer a potentially unlimited source of any cell type that may be required for cell replacement therapy, due to their remarkable ability to self-renew (they can divide indefinitely in culture) and to develop into any cell type in the body.
  • Funded by CIRM, we have built out approximately 3400 square feet of shared laboratory space within our existing research facility for hESC research, as well as approximately 2400 square feet for classroom facilities dedicated to training in hESC culture and manipulation. In the past year, the facility has supported over a dozen regional investigators seeking expertise in ESC/iPSC techniques. The Shared Lab maintains an average of 7 hESC and/or iPSC lines for investigators both inside and outside the Buck Institute. The facility also routinely generates neural stem cells (NSCs) from both the hESC and iPSC lines and the NSC lines have been used by many of the investigators for differentiation studies. In addition, the Shared Lab has created several genetically modified hESC lines (e.g., GFP-labeled cells) and developed techniques for efficient transfection of hESCs and their differentiated derivatives. These lines and techniques are made available for all investigators and have been used by several of them for studies of aging-related process.
  • Before a hESC-based therapy can be developed, it is essential to train scientists to efficiently grow, maintain and manipulate these cells. We have taught two types of hands-on training courses in the past year with more than 30 scientists across California participated: a basic 5-day hESC culture course and an advanced 5-day hESC culture course, to meet the diverse needs of California scientists. These courses provided scientists with an understanding of hESC biology and enabled them to set up and conduct hESC research after completion of training.
  • Age-related diseases of the nervous system are major challenges for biomedicine in the 21st century. These disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, cause loss of neural tissue and functional impairment. Currently, there is no cure for these devastating neurological disorders. A promising approach to the treatment of age-related neurological disorders is cell therapy, i.e., transplantation of nerve cells into the brain or spinal cord to replace lost cells and restore function. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) offer a potentially unlimited source of any cell type that may be required for cell replacement therapy, due to their remarkable ability to self-renew (they can divide indefinitely in culture) and to develop into any cell type in the body.
  • Funded by CIRM, we have built out approximately 3400 square feet of shared laboratory space within our existing research facility for hESC research, as well as approximately 2400 square feet for classroom facilities dedicated to training in hESC culture and manipulation. In the past year, the facility has supported over a dozen regional investigators seeking expertise in ESC/iPSC techniques. The Shared Lab maintains an average of 10 hESC and/or iPSC lines for investigators both inside and outside the Buck Institute. The facility also routinely generates neural stem cells (NSCs) from both the hESC and iPSC lines and the NSC lines have been used by many of the investigators for differentiation studies. In addition, the Shared Lab has created several genetically modified hESC lines (e.g., GFP-labeled cells) and developed techniques for efficient transfection of hESCs and their differentiated derivatives. These lines and techniques are made available for all investigators and have been used by several of them for studies of aging-related process.
  • Before a hESC-based therapy can be developed, it is essential to train scientists to efficiently grow, maintain and manipulate these cells. We have taught two types of hands-on training courses in the past year with more than 30 scientists across California participated: a basic 5-day hESC culture course and an advanced 5-day hESC culture course, to meet the diverse needs of California scientists. These courses provided scientists with an understanding of hESC biology and enabled them to set up and conduct hESC research after completion of training.
  • Age-related diseases of the nervous system are major challenges for biomedicine in the 21st century. These disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, cause loss of neural tissue and functional impairment. Currently, there is no cure for these devastating neurological disorders. A promising approach to the treatment of age-related neurological disorders is cell therapy, i.e., transplantation of nerve cells into the brain or spinal cord to replace lost cells and restore function. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) offer a potentially unlimited source of any cell type that may be required for cell replacement therapy, due to their remarkable ability to self-renew (they can divide indefinitely in culture) and to develop into any cell type in the body.
  • Funded by CIRM, we have built out approximately 3400 square feet of shared laboratory space within our existing research facility for hESC research, as well as approximately 2400 square feet for classroom facilities dedicated to training in hESC culture and manipulation. In the past year, the facility has supported over a dozen regional investigators seeking expertise in ESC/iPSC techniques. The Shared Lab maintains an average of 10 hESC and/or iPSC lines for investigators both inside and outside the Buck Institute. The facility also routinely generates neural stem cells (NSCs) from both the hESC and iPSC lines and the NSC lines have been used by many of the investigators for differentiation studies. In addition, the Shared Lab has created several genetically modified hESC lines (e.g., GFP-labeled cells) and developed techniques for efficient transfection of hESCs and their differentiated derivatives. These lines and techniques are made available for all investigators and have been used by several of them for studies of aging-related process.
  • Before a hESC-based therapy can be developed, it is essential to train scientists to efficiently grow, maintain and manipulate these cells. We have taught two types of hands-on training courses in the past year with more than 30 scientists across California participated: a basic 5-day hESC culture course and an advanced 5-day hESC culture course, to meet the diverse needs of California scientists. These courses provided scientists with an understanding of hESC biology and enabled them to set up and conduct hESC research after completion of training.
  • Age-related diseases of the nervous system are major challenges for biomedicine in the 21st century. These disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, cause loss of neural tissue and functional impairment. Currently, there is no cure for these devastating neurological disorders. A promising approach to the treatment of age-related neurological disorders is cell therapy, i.e., transplantation of nerve cells into the brain or spinal cord to replace lost cells and restore function. Work in this field has been limited however, due to the limited availability of cells for transplantation. For example, cells from 6-10 human fetuses obtained 6-10 weeks post-conception are required for one patient with Parkinson’s disease to undergo transplantation.
  • Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer a potentially unlimited source of any cell type that may be required for cell replacement therapy, due to their remarkable ability to self-renew (they can divide indefinitely in culture) and to develop into any cell type in the body. In this proposal, we will build out of approximately 3800 square feet of shared laboratory space within our existing research facility for hESC research, as well as approximately 420 square feet for classroom facilities dedicated to training in hESC culture and manipulation. We seek to understand how hESCs differentiate into authentic, clinically useful nerve cells and will use novel molecular tools to examine the behavior of cells transplanted in rodent models of human neurological disease. We will also need to develop a noninvasive method of following cells after transplantation and we propose to develop luciferase-tagged (light-emitting) hESC lines for in vivo animal imaging. In addition, we will use hESC-derived nerve cells to screen drug and chemical libraries for compounds that protect nerve cells from toxicity, and to develop in vitro disease models. We believe that these experiments are critical to enhancing our understanding of neurological diseases and providing the tools that will be necessary to move cell therapy to the clinic.
  • Before a hESC-based therapy can be developed, it is essential to train scientists to efficiently grow, maintain and manipulate these cells. We propose to teach four 5-day hands-on training courses: two basic and two advanced hESC culture courses per year, to California scientists free of charge. These courses will provide scientists with an understanding of hESC biology and will enable them to set up and conduct hESC research after completion of training.
  • In summary, the goal of this proposal is to provide over twenty investigators at the home institute and neighboring institutions with the ability to culture, differentiate, and genetically manipulate hESCs - including clinical-grad hESC lines—to develop diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

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