Neurological Disorders

Coding Dimension ID: 
303
Coding Dimension path name: 
Neurological Disorders
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01814
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 491 471
Disease Focus: 
Autism
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are complex neurodevelopmental diseases that affect 1 in 150 children in the United States. Such diseases are mainly characterized by deficits in verbal communication, impaired social interaction, and limited and repetitive interests and behavior. Because autism is a complex spectrum of disorders, a different combination of genetic mutations is likely to play a role in each individual. One of the major impediments to ASD research is the lack of relevant human disease models. ASD animal models are limited and cannot reproduce the important language and social behavior impairment of ASD patients. Moreover, mouse models do not represent the vast human genetic variation. Reprogramming of somatic cells to a pluripotent state (induced pluripotent stem cells, iPSCs) has been accomplished using human cells. Isogenic pluripotent cells are attractive from the prospective to understanding complex diseases, such as ASD. Our preliminary data provide evidence for an unexplored developmental window in ASD wherein potential therapies could be successfully employed. The model recapitulates early stages of ASD and represents a promising cellular tool for drug screening, diagnosis and personalized treatment. By testing whether drugs have differential effects in iPSC-derived neurons from different ASD backgrounds, we can begin to unravel how genetic variation in ASD dictates responses to different drugs or modulation of different pathways. If we succeed, we may find new molecular mechanisms in ASD and new compounds that may interfere and rescue these pathways. The impact of this approach is significant, since it will help better design and anticipate results for translational medicine. Moreover, the collection and molecular/cellular characterization of these iPSCs will be an extremely valuable tool to understand the fundamental mechanism behind ASD. The current proposal uses human somatic cells converted into iPSC-derived neurons. The proposed experiments bring our analyses to real human cell models for the first time. We anticipate gaining insights into the causal molecular mechanisms of ASD and to discover potential biomarkers and specific therapeutic targets for ASD.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Autism spectrum disorders, including Rett syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Timothy syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Tuberous sclerosis, Asperger syndrome or childhood disintegrative disorder, affect many Californian children. In the absence of a functionally effective cure or early diagnostic tool, the cost of caring for patients with such pediatric diseases is high, in addition to a major personal and family impact since childhood. The strikingly high prevalence of ASD, dramatically increasing over the past years, has led to the emotional view that ASD can be traced to a single source, such as vaccine, preservatives or other environmental factors. Such perspective has a negative impact on science and society in general. Our major goal is to develop a drug-screening platform to rescue deficiencies showed from neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells generated from patients with ASD. If successful, our model will bring novel insights on the dentification of potential diagnostics for early detection of ASD risk, or ability to predict severity of particular symptoms. In addition, the development of this type of pharmacological therapeutic approach in California will serve as an important proof of principle and stimulate the formation of businesses that seek to develop these types of therapies (providing banks of inducible pluripotent stem cells) in California with consequent economic benefit.

Progress Report: 
  • During the first year of the project, we focused on creating a cell bank of reprogrammed fibroblasts derived from several autistic patients. These pluripotent stem cells were then induced to differentiate into neurons and gene expression analyses will be done at different time points along the process. We also used some of the syndromic and non-syndromic patients for neuronal phenotypic assays and found that a subset of idiopathic autism cases displayed a molecular overlap with Rett syndrome. Our plan is to use these data to test the ability of candidate drugs on reverting some of the neuronal defects observed in patient neurons.
  • The goal of this CIRM translational award is to generate a hiPSC-based drug-screening platform to identify potential therapies or biomarkers for autism spectrum disorders. In this second year we have made significant progress toward this goal by working on validating several neuronal phenotypes derived from iPSCs from idiopathic and syndromic autistic patients. We also made significant progress in order to optimize a synaptic readout for the screening platform. This step was important to speed up drug discovery. Using Rett syndrome iPSC-derived neurons as a prototype, we showed that we could rescue defect in synaptogenesis using a collection of FDA-approved drugs. Finally, we have initiated our analyses on global gene expression, from several neurons and progenitor cells derived from controls and autistic patients. We expect to find pathways that are altered in subgroups of patients, defined by specific clinical phenotypes.
  • The goal of this CIRM translational award is to generate a hiPSC-based drug-screening platform to identify potential therapies or biomarkers for ASDs. We have made significant progress toward this goal by working on validating several neuronal phenotypes derived from iPSC from Rett syndrome (RTT) and idiopathic autistic patients. We also made significant progress to optimize the readout for our screening platform. This was important to speed up drug discovery. Using RTT iPSC as a prototype, we showed that we could rescue defect in synaptogenesis using a collection of FDA-approved drugs. Finally, we initiate our analyses on gene expression, collected from several neurons and progenitor cells derived from controls and autistic patients. We expect to find pathways that are altered in subgroups of patients, defined by specific clinical phenotypes. Here, we describe the results of our drug screening, using FDA-approved drugs in a repurposing strategy. We also show for the first time that iPSC-derived human neurons are able to generate synchronized neuronal networks. RTT neurons behave differently from controls. Our focus now is on the completion of our gene expression analyses and to validate positive drugs using a battery of secondary cellular assays.
  • The goal of this CIRM translational award is to generate a hiPSC-based drug-screening platform to identify potential therapies or biomarkers for ASDs. We have made significant progress toward this goal by working on validating several neuronal phenotypes derived from iPSC from Rett syndrome (RTT) and idiopathic autistic patients. We also made significant progress to optimize the synaptogenesis readout for our screening platform. This was important to speed up drug discovery. Using RTT iPSC as a prototype, we showed that we could rescue defect in synaptogenesis using a collection of FDA-approved drugs. We also show for the first time that iPSC-derived human neurons are able to generate synchronized neuronal networks using a multi-electrode array approach. We showed that RTT and ASD neurons behave differently from controls and defects in synchronization can be rescued with candidate drugs. Finally, we concluded our analyses on gene expression, collected from several neurons and progenitor cells derived from controls and autistic patients. We revealed and validated pathways that are altered in ASD patients, defined by specific clinical phenotypes (macrencephaly).
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.

Progress Report: 
  • The present project aims at developing a new treatment for spinal cord injuries that affect the most caudal part of the spinal cord, the conus medullaris, and associated lumbosacral nerve roots, the cauda equina. Trauma to this part of the nervous system is associated with paralysis and impairments of bladder and bowel functions, in part due to loss of motor neurons. We have developed a model in the rat consisting of lumbosacral nerve root injuries that mimic the human condition. The injury consists of an avulsion of the ventral roots from the spinal cord surface. In this project, we grow human embryonic stem cells to develop into immature motor neurons, and these cells are transplanted into the spinal cord of rats with lumbosacral nerve root injuries and repair. To date, significant progress has been made. We have shown that 1) Large numbers of motor neurons can be grown in tissue culture and later be used for cell transplantation into the rat spinal cord; 2) Transplanted human motor neurons at different developmental stages show long-term survival of up to at least 10 weeks in the rat spinal cord ; 3) Transplanted human motor neurons are capable of extending axons into the repaired ventral roots as well as into intact ventral roots and thereby enter the peripheral nervous system; 4) Transplantation of human motor neurons in combination with surgical repair of injured ventral roots resulted in return of a step-like voiding pattern detected during voiding behavioral studies; 5) Functional testing of the bladder muscle did not show any cell transplant-associated adverse functions; 6) Sensory threshold testing did not detect any signs of mechanical allodynia or heat hyperalgesia. During the present three-month reporting period, we studied and analyzed bladder wall tissues in control and experimental groups to evaluate the end-organ for any possible adverse effects of cell treatment as well as for the possibility of any desired therapeutic effect. Our studies on bladder wall thickness and on the thickness of the bladder lining showed no differences between control groups and treatment groups that had received human motor neurons as cell transplants into the spinal cord. We conclude that the human cell-based therapies did not inflict any adverse effects on the bladder wall, which represents the end-organ in our injury and repair model. Continued and ongoing analysis will further characterize the survival and differentiation pattern of transplanted human motor neurons as well as the effects on functional and anatomical outcome measures.
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01785-A
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 614 441
Disease Focus: 
Spinal Cord Injury
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
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.

Progress Report: 
  • Injuries to the lowest portion of the spine and the spinal cord commonly results in paralysis and impairment of bladder , bowel, and sexual functions. These injuries are usually referred to as conus medullaris and cauda equina forms of spinal cord injuries. Presently, no treatments are available to reverse the neurological deficits that result from these injuries.
  • In this project, we aim to reverse neurological deficits, including bladder function, in a rat model of spinal cord injury, which affects the lowermost portion of the spinal cord. This part of the spinal cord and the associated nerve roots are called the conus medullaris and cauda equina. In our experimental model, nerve roots carrying fibers that control muscle function and pelvic organs, such as the bladder and bowel, are injured at the surface of the spinal cord. This injury mimics many of the neurological deficits encountered in human cases.
  • For treatment purposes, we transplant human derived embryonic stem cells, which have been prepared to acquire properties of motor neurons, into the lowermost portion of the rat spinal cord after injury and surgical repair of nerve roots carrying motor fibers. The studies will evaluate both acute and delayed transplantation of human embryonoic
  • During the first year of the studies, we have developed improved protocols to increase our ability to produce large number of motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells. We have also developed improved methods to detect motor neurons during the neuron production process by using fluorescent reporters inside of the cells. The latter development is of great help when sorting and preparing cells with desired properties for transplantation studies. In addition, we have refined our surgical methods to make it less invasive, using a one-sided injury model instead of lesions on both sides of the spinal cord in rats. Specifically, bladder dysfunction can be assess after a one sided injury of nerve roots and be evaluated using a combination of bladder pressure recorings and electrical recordings referred to as electromyography (EMG) from muscles along the urethra. The revised procedure is well tolerated by the rats and is a suitable approach for studies of chronic injury and cell-based long-term treatments. A research manuscript describing this improved experimental method and refinement has been submitted to a scientific journal and reviewed, and the manuscript is currently undergoing our revisions before being considered for publication. The experimental refinement will greatly assist with our long-term studies on the effects of transplanted motor neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells. We have also begun experiments using our refined model and cells, which now can be produced in high numbers and be identifiable during both the cell culture steps and during the animal studies. Initial tissues have been harvested and are being processed for morphological analyses.
  • Injuries to the lowest portion of the spine and the spinal cord commonly results in paralysis and impairment of bladder , bowel, and sexual functions. These injuries are usually referred to as conus medullaris and cauda equina forms of spinal cord injuries. Presently, no treatments are available to reverse the neurological deficits that result from these injuries.
  • In this project, we aim to reverse neurological deficits, including bladder function, in a rat model of spinal cord injury, which affects the lowermost portion of the spinal cord. This part of the spinal cord and the associated nerve roots are called the conus medullaris and cauda equina. In our experimental model, nerve roots carrying fibers that control muscle function and pelvic organs, such as the bladder and bowel, are injured at the surface of the spinal cord. This injury mimics many of the neurological deficits encountered in human cases.
  • For treatment purposes, we transplant human derived embryonic stem cells, which have been prepared to acquire properties of motor neurons, into the lowermost portion of the rat spinal cord after injury and surgical repair of nerve roots carrying motor fibers. The studies will evaluate both acute and delayed transplantation of human embryonic stem cells, which have acquired properties of motor neurons.
  • During the second year of the studies, we have developed improved protocols to increase our ability to produce large number of motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells. We have also developed improved methods to detect motor neurons during the neuron production process by using fluorescent reporters inside of the cells. The latter development is of great help when sorting and preparing cells with desired properties for transplantation studies. In addition, we have refined our surgical methods to make it less invasive, using a one-sided injury model instead of lesions on both sides of the spinal cord in rats. Specifically, bladder dysfunction can be assessed after a one sided injury of nerve roots and be evaluated using a combination of bladder pressure recordings and electrical recordings referred to as electromyography (EMG) from muscles along the urethra. The revised procedure is well tolerated by the rats and is a suitable approach for studies of chronic injury and cell-based long-term treatments. A research manuscript describing this improved experimental method and refinement has been published. The experimental refinement will greatly assist with our long-term studies on the effects of transplanted motor neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells. We have also performed transplantations of embryonic human stem cell derived motor neurons into the rat spinal cord and demonstrated surgical feasibility as well as survival of large numbers of neurons in the rat spinal cord. Some of the transplanted cells also demonstrate anatomical markers for motor neurons after transplantation.
  • During the reporting period, we have contined to demonstrate that human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors can be produced in vitro. These motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors are transplanted into the rat spinal cord after a lumbosacral ventral root avulsion injury and repair of injured roots in the form of surgical re-attachment of the roots to the spinal cord surface. The lumbosacral ventral root avulsion injury mimics cauda equina and conus medullaris forms of spinal cord injury, an underserved patient population with paralysis of the legs and loss of bladder and bowel funcion. In this clinically relevant injury and repair model in rats, we have during the past several months demonstrated that transplanted human embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors are able to survive in the spinal cord of rats over extended periods of time with large numbers of neurons being detectable in the spinal cord grey matter at 1, 2, and 10 weeks after the injury, surgical root repair, and transplantation of the cells. The long term viability of translanted cells suggests integration of the transplanted cells in the host tissues. Some of the cells show expression of motor neuron markers, such as the transcription factor Hb9, as demonstrated by immunohistochemistry and light microscopy.
  • Additional studies have been performed during this reporting period to address whether the transplanted cells may extend axons into the replanted lumbosacral ventral roots. Interestingly, many human axons were detected in the replanted ventral roots using immunohistochemitry and light microscopy for the detection of human processes. Additional immunohistochemistry demonstrated that these processes contained neurofilaments, which are characteristic for axons. In control experiments, we showed that avulsed roots, which had not been replanted into the spinal cord, did not exhibit any human axons. As expected, surgical reconnection of lesioned ventral roots to the spinal cord is needed in order for the axons of the transplanted human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors to be extended into avulsed ventral roots. Furthermore, in a series of sham operated animals without ventral root lesions, human motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors were also transplanted into the rat spinal cord. Interestingly, the transplanted human motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors were here also able to extend axons into ventral roots, even though the ventral roots had never been lesions. We conclude that transplanted human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons are capable of extending axons into both intact ventrl roots and into ventral roots, which had been avulsed and surgically reattached to the spinal cord using a replantation procedure.
  • In functional studies, we have performed urodynamic studies and voiding behavioral studies in rats after the transplantation of human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors. These studies are still ongoing with additional experiments being performed. However, preliminary studies suggest that the combination of acute repair of avulsed ventral roots and cell transplantation results in a gradual improvement of voiding reflexes. Ongoing studies are addressing the relative contribution that may be provided by the replantation of avulsed ventral roots and by the transplantation of human motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors into the rat spinal cord.
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01778
Investigator: 
Name: 
Type: 
PI
Type: 
Partner-PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 472 839
Disease Focus: 
Parkinson's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Collaborative Funder: 
Germany
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is the most common neurodegenerative movement disorder. It is characterized by motor impairment such as slowness of movements, shaking and gait disturbances. Age is the most consistent risk factor for PD, and as we have an aging population, it is of upmost importance that we find therapies to limit the social, economic and emotional burden of this disease. Most of the studies to find better drugs for PD have been done in rodents. However, many of these drugs failed when tested in PD patients. One problem is that we can only investigate the diseased neurons of the brain after the PD patients have died. We propose to use skin cells from PD patients and reprogram these into neurons and other surrounding cells in the brain called glia. This is a model to study the disease while the patient is still alive. We will investigate how the glial surrounding cells affect the survival of neurons. We will also test drugs that are protective for glial cells and neurons. Overall, this approach is advantageous because it allows for the study of pathological development of PD in a human system. The goal of this project is to identify key molecular events involved at early stages in PD and exploit these as potential points of therapeutic intervention.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The goal of this proposal is to create human cell-based models for neurodegenerative disease using transgenic human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells reprogrammed from skin samples of highly clinically characterized Parkinson’s Disease (PD) patients and age-matched controls. Given that age is the most consistent risk factor for PD, and we have an aging population, it is of utmost importance that we unravel the cellular, molecular, and genetic causes of the highly specific cell death characteristic of PD. New drugs can be developed out of these studies that will also benefit the citizens of the State of California. In addition, if our strategy can go into preclinical development, this approach would most likely be performed in a pharmaceutical company based in California.

Progress Report: 
  • In the first year of our CIRM Early Translational II Award we have largely accomplished the first two aims put forth in our proposal “Crosstalk: Inflammation in Parkinson’s disease (PD) in a humanized in vitro model.” Dr. Juergen Winkler, in Erlangen, Germany, has enrolled 10 patients and 6 controls in this project, most of which have had a biopsy of their skin cells sent to The Salk Institute in La Jolla. In Dr. Gage’s lab at The Salk Institute these patient fibroblasts are being reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and initial attempts at differentiation into dopaminergic neurons are underway. Additionally, patient blood cells have been sent from Dr. Winkler’s clinic to the lab of Dr. Glass at UC San Diego, where their gene expression profile is being determined. In this initial reporting period we are successfully building the cellular tools necessary to investigate the role of nuclear receptors and inflammation in Parkinson’s Disease.
  • In the second year of our CIRM Early Translational II Award we are making substantial progress towards completing all three aims put forth in our proposal. Dr. Juergen Winkler, our German collaborator, has completed the patient recruitment phase of this project, and skin cells from all 16 subjects (10 with PD and six controls) have been reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. The patient-specific iPSCs have been differentiated into well-characterized neural stem cells, which the Gage lab is further differentiating into both dopaminergic neurons and astrocytes. In addition to collecting patient skin cells, Dr. Winkler’s group has collected blood cells which are currently being analyzed for gene expression differences by Dr. Glass’ lab at UCSD using state-of-the-art RNA sequencing technology. We have identified a compound that is anti-inflammatory in human cells that we will test on the patient-specific cells once we finish building the cellular tools required to investigate the role of nuclear receptors and inflammation in Parkinson’s Disease.
  • In the final year of our CIRM Early Translational II Award we made considerable progress towards completing all three aims put forth in our proposal. Dr. Juergen Winkler, our German collaborator, has completed the patient recruitment phase of this project, and skin cells from all 16 subjects (10 with PD and six controls) have been reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. The patient-specific iPSCs have been differentiated into well-characterized neural stem cells, which the Gage lab is further differentiating into both dopaminergic neurons and astrocytes. In addition to collecting patient skin cells, Dr. Winkler’s group has collected blood cells which are currently being analyzed for gene expression differences by Dr. Glass’ lab at UCSD using state-of-the-art RNA sequencing technology. We have identified a compound that is anti-inflammatory in human cells that can reduce inflammation in patient-specific cells, and we are beginning to look at its effects on neuronal survival. This award has allowed us to build the cellular tools required to investigate the role of nuclear receptors and inflammation in Parkinson’s disease, which is a model with endless potential.
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01767
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 708 549
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Trauma
Collaborative Funder: 
Maryland
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects 1.4 million Americans a year; 175,000 in California. When the brain is injured, nerve cells near the site of injury die due to the initial trauma and interruption of blood flow. Secondary damage occurs as neighboring tissue is injured by the inflammatory response to the initial injury, leading to a larger area of damage. This damage happens to both neurons, the electrically active cells, and oligodendrocytes, the cell which makes the myelin insulation. A TBI patient typically loses cognitive function in one or more domains associated with the damage (e.g. attention deficits with frontal damage, or learning and memory deficits associated with temporal lobe/hippocampal damage); post-traumatic seizures are also common. Currently, no treatments have been shown to be beneficial in alleviating the cognitive problems following even a mild TBI.

Neural stem cells (NSCs) provide a cell population that is promising as a therapeutic for neurotrauma. One idea is that transplanting NSCs into an injury would provide “cell replacement”; the stem cells would differentiate into new neurons and new oligodendrocytes and fill in for lost host cells. We have successfully used “sorted“ human NSCs in rodent models of spinal cord injury, showing that hNSCs migrate, proliferate, differentiate into oligodendrocytes and neurons, integrate with the host, and restore locomotor function. Killing the NSCs abolishes functional improvements, showing that integration of hNSCs mediates recovery. Two Phase I FDA trials support the potential of using sorted hNSC for brain therapy and were partially supported by studies in my lab. NSCs may also improve outcome by helping the host tissue repair itself, or by providing trophic support for newly born neurons following injury. Recently, transplantation of rodent-derived NSCs into a model of TBI showed limited, but significant improvements in some outcome measures. These results argue for the need to develop human-derived NSCs that can be used for TBI.

We will establish and characterize multiple “sorted” and “non-sorted“ human NSC lines starting from 3 human ES lines. We will determine their neural potential in cell culture, and use the best 2 lines in an animal model of TBI, measuring learning, memory and seizure activity following TBI; then correlating these outcomes to tissue modifying effects. Ultimately, the proposed work may generate one or more human NSC lines suitable to use for TBI and/or other CNS injuries or disorders. A small reduction in the size of the injury or restoration of just some nerve fibers to their targets beyond the injury could have significant implications for a patient’s quality of life and considerable economic impact to the people of California. If successful over the 3-year grant, additional funding of this approach may enable a clinical trial within the next five years given success in the Phase I FDA approved trials of sorted hNSCs for other nervous system disorders.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects 1.4 million Americans every year. This equates to ~175,000 Californian’s suffering a TBI each year. Additionally, at least 5.3 million Americans currently have a long-term or a lifelong need for help to perform activities of daily living as a result of suffering a TBI previously. Forty percent of patients who are hospitalized with a TBI had at least one unmet need for services one year after their injury. One example is a need to improve their memory and problem solving skills. TBI can also cause epilepsy and increases the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other brain disorders that become more prevalent with age. The combined direct medical costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity due to TBI totaled an estimated $60 billion in the United States in 2000 (when the most recent data was available). This translates to ~$7.5 billion in costs each year just to Californians.

The proposed research seeks to generate several human neural-restricted stem cell lines from ES cells. These “sorted” neural-restricted stem cell lines should have greatly reduced or no tumor forming capability, making them ideally suited for clinical use. After verifying that these lines are multipotent (e.g. they can make neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes), we will test their efficacy to improve outcomes in TBI on a number of measures, including learning and memory, seizure activity, tissue sparing, preservation of host neurons, and improvements in white matter pathology. Of benefit to California is that these same outcome measures in a rodent model of TBI can also be assessed in humans with TBI, potentially speeding the translational from laboratory to clinical application.

A small reduction in the size of the injury, or restoration of just some nerve fibers to their targets beyond the injury, or moderate improvement in learning and memory post-TBI, or a reduction in the number or severity of seizures could have significant implications for a patient’s quality of life and considerable economic impact to the people of California. Additionally, the cell lines we have chosen to work with are unencumbered with IP issues that would prevent us, or others, from using these cell lines to test in other central nervous system disorders. Two of the cell lines have already been manufactured to “GMP” standards, which would speed up the translation of this work from the laboratory to the clinic. Finally, if successful, these lines would be potentially useful for treating a variety of central nervous system disorders in addition to TBI, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, autism, spinal cord injury, and/or multiple sclerosis.

Progress Report: 
  • In the first year of this Early Translation Award for traumatic brain injury (TBI), our goal was to develop the stem cells lines necessary to begin testing of stem cells in an animal model of TBI in year 2. If we are fortunate to demonstrate that the stem cell products are effective in animal models of TBI, these cells will need to be grown in a way that is acceptable to the FDA for future use in man. Xenofree means that the cells are not exposed to possible animal product contaminants (e.g. serum or blood products) and that every component that the cells were exposed to is chemically defined and can be traced to the original source.
  • First, we obtained three separate embryonic stem (ES) cell lines from Sheffield, UK and imported them to the United States. These lines where then thawed and grown in “xenofree” cell culture conditions. Many labs have had difficulty transitioning human ES cells to xenofree conditions without introducing genetic defects in the cell lines or killing the cells. We were able to work out the correct conditions for all three ES cell lines to be grown xenofree. We were also successful in converting two of the three ES lines into neural stem cells (the subtype of stem cell needed for transplanting into brain tissue). These neural stem cells (NSCs) were further purified by labeling them for a stem cell surface marker present on NSCs (called CD133) and then magnetically sorting out just the CD133 positive cells and continuing to grow them. This approach is thought to enrich the stem cell population for NSCs and eliminate any remaining non-differentiated ES cells (which have an added risk of forming tumors if injected into animals or man). We successfully “sorted” both Shef cell lines and we now have four candidate populations of sorted and unsorted Shef4 and Shef6 cells. We grew these cells in culture and tested whether they differentiated into neuronal precursor or glial precursor cells. Quantification of the type of cells they turn into after 2 weeks showed that the four cell populations were different. These differences were even more apparent when looking at the cells in a microscope. At the end of year one, we have four different populations of neural stem cells which are growing in defined xenofree conditions, are frozen down in master cell banks, and which are genetically normal. There are sufficient quantities of these human neural stem cells (hNSC) to complete the remaining aims of the ETA grant over the remaining two years.
  • In the first year we also trained staff in the surgical procedures required to produce controlled cortical impact injuries in Athymic nude rats (ATNs), a type of rat that has no immune system. These procedures were necessary because no one has ever used ATN rats to model TBI. Our goal in year two is to transplant hNSCs into rats with TBI. If the rats had a normal immune system, their bodies would detect the foreign human cells and reject them. Also, because no one has ever tested TBI in ATN rats, we needed to find out if ATN rats respond like regular rats to the injury and if they have similar, predictable deficits on the cognitive tasks we plan to use in year 2 to measure whether hNCSs improve the animal’s recovery or not. This training and these pilot tests in ATN rats were completed successfully. Finally, the hypothesis is that by “sorting” the hNSCs to be CD133 positive, we are making the stem cell population safer for transplantation. This will be tested in year 2 using a tumorigenicity assay. We worked out how to conduct these assays in year 1 using a population of ES cells known to cause tumors so that we will have a positive control to compare the hNSCs to in year 2.
  • In summary, we met all of our goals and milestones for year 1 and are poised to make good progress in year 2.
  • The goal of this project is to take three human embryonic stem cell lines (Shef3, Shef4, and Shef6), transition them to multipotent neural stem cell (hNSC) populations, sort/enrich these hNSC stem/progenitor populations, and then test these cell lines for efficacy in a rat model of controlled cortical impact (CCI) model of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Our strategy is to develop xenofree culture methods for the transition of hESC to NSCs, use magnetic activated cell sorting (MAC) for the cell surface markers CD133+/CD34- to enrich the hNSC populations for stem/progenitor cells, test these sorted vs unsorted cell lines in tumorigenicity assays, and use the best two non-tumorigenic lines in a CCI model of TBI. Efficacy will be assessed on a battery of cognitive tests, via a reduction in spontaneous seizure, and in histological outcomes.
  • At the Two Year time-point in the grant, we have (A) generated 6 hNSC populations, (B) completed short-term teratoma assays which demonstrate that none of our hNSC populations form teratomas in either of two transplantation sites (sub cutaneous into the leg or intracranially into the brain, (C) established parameters for graded contusion traumatic brain injuries in ATN rats that (D) yield long-term (≥8 weeks) deficits in both learning and memory on the Morris Water Maze. (E) We have also determined that TBI yields an altered response on a conditioned taste aversion task (neophobia) and on the elevated plus maze compared to sham controls. (F) Determined that unsorted hNSCs (both Shef4 and Shef6) do not survive long-term in uninjured brain and (G) transplanted two large cohorts of TBI injured animals with Shef6 sorted NSCs of high passage, Shef6 sorted hNSCs of low passage, sham animals, and animals with a vehicle control. These two cohorts are too large to run simultaneously, so they are being run in parallel. Animals from both cohorts will complete functional all assessments by the end of June 2013.
  • Summary: We have very promising preclinical efficacy data in a rodent model of traumatic brain injury (TBI) using stem cells as a potential therapeutic. We have found that intra-cranial transplants of Shef-6 derived human neural stem cells (hNSCs) appear to induce improvement on two different behavioral domains after long-term (>2 months) survival. Importantly, Shef-6 hNSCs did not form tumors when transplanted at high doses into naïve brain. Shef-6 hNSCs are xenofree, GMP compatible, suitable for use in man (the donor and cells were certified to be free of HIV, Hepatitis A, B, C, HTLV, EBV, CMV, and are mycoplasma free). Furthermore, Shef-6 is on the FDA embryonic stem cell registry, enabling future Federal funding of their clinical testing in man if warranted. Specifically, we have demonstrated long-term efficacy in a moderate to severe controlled cortical impact (CCI) model of TBI using Shef-6 derived hNSCs on both a cognitive task (MWM Reversal Learning) and an emotional task (Elevated Plus Maze for anxiety). This dual improvement across cognitive and emotional domains is unique to the field and supports external validity of the model. These behavioral findings need to be correlated with quantification of the total number of surviving human cells and their terminal cell fate (whether the hNSCs differentiated into neurons, oligodendrocytes, or astrocytes) to confirm efficacy. Stereological quantification is currently ongoing and very labor intensive. If the correlation between surviving cells and cognitive improvements holds up after the quantification is complete, these findings will support a future Preclinical Development Award application to CIRM. Additionally, we are the first group to couple kindling and TBI to model the critical complication of post-TBI seizures. Traditional TBI models yield seizures in less than 20% of rodents, making hNSC studies cost prohibitive. Coupling kindling with TBI ensures that all animals start with a hypersensitive neural circuit so hNSCs can be tested in a more relevant environment; we will be ready to begin this important kindling test coupled with hNSCs in the Spring of 2014. These studies have paved new ground for a field with huge economic costs, no treatments, and no GMP qualified ES based solutions on the horizon.
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are the leading cause of death and disability in the young population. Falls resulting in injury to the brain are also a major problem in the elderly. The rate of TBI is greater than the number of people diagnosed with brain, breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancers combined, yet nationally the US invests 95% more research dollars on cancer compared to TBI. 1.7 million new cases of TBI occur each year, at an economic cost of $60 billion. Extrapolating to California (12% of US population), there are ~210,000 new cases of TBI a year in our state, with a yearly cost that exceeds $7 billion. TBI results in permanent long-term deficits, including memory impairments and emotional disfunction, that affect both the patient and their families. There are no treatments to alleviate the long-term consequences of TBI. Yet a small reduction in damage, restoration of just some nerve fibers to their targets beyond the injury, or moderate improvement in learning, memory, or emotional outcomes could have significant implications for an individual’s quality of life. Our hypothesis was that human neural stem cells (hNCSs) might alleviate some impairments associated with TBI in a new animal model of neurotrauma. Our first goal was to grow hNSCs under cell culture conditions free from contamination of non-human products (referred to as “xenofree”), and then sort these cells based on cell surface markers known to be present in high concentrations on migratory neural stem cells (and not other byproducts of the culture conditions). Our second goal was to develop an animal model of TBI with long-lasting cognitive and emotional deficits; this animal model had to be “immuno-deficient”, or lacking a functional immune system, so that “foreign” human cells would not be rejected. Long-lasting deficits were need so that there would be a sufficient time window of dysfunction to allow the hNSCs to divide, migrate through the brain, and possibly restore function. If animals recover function too quickly on their own (as happens in some models of neurotrauma), then there would not be a large enough difference between control animals and injured animals to detect an effect of the hNSCs or not. Goal three was to test the therapeutic effects of hNSCs in this model. Finally, because a large number of people with TBI also experience seizures long after the initial injury, our forth goal was to combine “kindling” with TBI and ask whether hNSCs could alter kindling. Kindling involves implanting an electrode in the brain and very gently stimulating the brain every day until seizures occur. One can then measure how strong the seizure are and their duration (called after-discharge).
  • As the result of receiving CIRM Early Translation funding, we successfully generated two “xenofree” human neural stem cell lines (hNSCs) which are suitable for future therapeutic use in a variety of human neurological conditions (Goal 1). We also developed an athymic nude rat (ATN) model of controlled cortical impact TBI which exhibits sustained (2-months or longer) cognitive and emotional deficits. ATN rats lack T-cells, and thus have a sufficiently impaired immune system that they do not completely reject transplanted human cells. These ATN rats show deficits on novel place recognition (NPR), acquisition and memory of location on the Morris Water Maze, and disturbances on an Elevated Plus Maze (EPM) task in comparison to sham controls (Goal 2). We also found that sorted hNSCs survive and are not rejected in this model and that performance on the NPR task, learning on the Morris Water Maze and exploration on the EPM are all improved in the hNSC treated group compared to sham controls (Goal 3). Finally, when we repeated a therapeutic transplantation test of sorted hNSCs, but in seizure/kindled animals with TBI we found three interesting results (Goal 4). First, we replicated our earlier finding that hNSCs are efficacious in restoring memory function on the NPR task prior to kindling. Second, we found that after kindling, the improvement found with hNSCs was lost. And finally, we found that hNSCs reduce the number of After Discharge events in TBI+Kindled animals in comparison to TBI+Kindled animals that received a vehicle control injection.
  • In summary, we have successfully met all of our goals: (1) we generated a new human neural stem cell line suitable for future clinical trials in humans. (2) We developed an immunodeficient animal model of traumatic brain injury with sustained behavioral deficits. (3) We found very promising preclinical efficacy of our hNSCs in TBI. And (4), we have shown that hNSCs may play a role in reducing the number or severity of seizures following TBI, but if seizure activity is severe, that activity may interfere with hNSC mediated improvements on memory. With additional funding, we hope to complete the full range of preclinical studies required to translate these positive findings into an FDA approved human trial.
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01749
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 752 058
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Epilepsy
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Many neurological disorders are characterized by an imbalance between excitation and inhibition. Our ultimate goal: to develop a cell-based therapy to modulate aberrant brain activity in the treatment of these disorders. Our initial focus is on epilepsy. In 20-30% of these patients, seizures are unresponsive to drugs, requiring invasive surgical resection of brain regions with aberrant activity. The candidate cells we propose to develop can inhibit hyperactive neural circuits after implantation into the damaged brain. As such, these cells could provide an effective treatment not just for epilepsy, but also for a variety of other neurological conditions like Parkinson's, traumatic brain injury, and spasticity after spinal cord injury. We propose to bring a development candidate, a neuronal cell therapy, to the point of preclinical development. The neurons that normally inhibit brain circuits originate from a region of the developing brain called the medial ganglionic eminence (MGE). When MGE cells are grafted into the postnatal or adult brain, they disperse seamlessly and form inhibitory neurons that modulate local circuits. This property of MGE cells has not been shown for any other type of neural precursor. Our recent studies demonstrate that MGE cells grafted into an animal model of epilepsy can significantly decrease the number and severity of seizures. Other "proof-of-principle" studies suggest that these progenitor cells can be effective treatments in Parkinson's. In a separate effort, we are developing methods to differentiate large numbers of human MGE (H-MGE) cells from embryonic stem (ES) cells. To translate this therapy to humans, we need to determine how many MGE cells are required to increase inhibition after grafting and establish that this transplantation does not have unwanted side-effects. In addition, we need simple assays and reagents to test preparations of H-MGE cells to determine that they have the desired migratory properties and differentiate into nerve cells with the expected inhibitory properties. At present, these issues hinder development of this cell-based therapy in California and worldwide. We propose: (1) to perform "dose-response" experiments using different graft sizes of MGE cells and determine the minimal amount needed to increase inhibition; (2) to test whether MGE transplantation affects the survival of host neurons or has unexpected side-effects on the behavior of the grafted animals; (3) to develop simple in vitro assays (and identify reagents) to test H-MGE cells before transplantation. Our application takes advantage of an established multi-lab collaboration between basic scientists and clinicians. We also have the advice of neurosurgeons, epilepsy neurologists and a laboratory with expertise in animal behavior. If a safe cell-based therapy to replace lost inhibitory interneurons can be developed and validated, then clinical trials in patients destined for invasive neurosurgical resections could proceed.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

This proposal is designed to accelerate progress toward development of a novel cell-based therapy with potentially broad benefit for the treatment of multiple neurological diseases. The potential to translate our basic science findings into a treatment that could benefit patients is our primary focus and our initial target disease is epilepsy. This work will provide benefits to the State of California in the following areas:

* California epilepsy patients and patients with other neurological diseases will benefit from improved therapies. The number of patients refractory to available medications is significant: a recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention [www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/] estimates that 1 out of 100 adults have epilepsy and up to one-third of these patients are not receiving adequate treatment. In California, it is one of the most common disabling neurological conditions. In most states, including California, epileptic patients whose seizures aren't well-controlled cannot obtain a driver's license or work certain jobs -- truck driving, air traffic control, firefighting, law enforcement, and piloting. The annual cost estimates to treat epilepsy range from $12 to $16 billion in the U.S. Current therapies curb seizures through pharmacological management but are not designed to modify brain circuits that are damaged or dysfunctional. The goals of our research program is to develop a novel cell-based therapy with the potential to eliminate seizures and improve the quality of life for this patient population, as well as decrease the financial burden to the patients' families, private insurers, and state agencies. Since MGE cells can mediate inhibition in other neurological and psychiatric diseases, the neural based therapy we are proposing is likely to have a therapeutic and financial impact that is much broader.

* Technology transfer in California. Historically, California institutions have developed and implemented a steady flow of technology transfer. Based on these precedents and the translational potential of our research goals, both to provide bioassays and potentially useful markers to follow the differentiation of MGE cells, this program is likely to result in licensing of further technology to the corporate sector. This will have an impact on the overall competitiveness of our state's technology sector and the resulting potential for creation of new jobs.

* Stem cell scientists training and recruitment in California. As part of this proposal we will train a student, technicians, and associated postdocs in MGE progenitor derivation, transplantation, and cell-based therapy for brain repair. Moreover, the translational nature of the disease-oriented proposal will result in new technology which we expect to be transferable to industry partners for facilitate development into new clinical alternatives.

Progress Report: 
  • Advances in stem cell research and regenerative medicine have led to the potential use of stem cell therapies for neurodegenerative, developmental and acquired brain disease. The Alvarez-Buylla lab at UCSF is part of a collaboration that is pioneering the investigation of therapeutic interneuron replacement for the correction of neurological disorders arising from defects in neural excitation/inhibition. Our preliminary data suggests that grafting interneuron precursors into the postnatal rodent brain allows for up to a 35% increase in the number of cortical interneurons. Interneuron replacement has been used in animal models to modify plasticity, prevent spontaneous epileptic seizures, ameliorate hemiparkinsonian motor symptoms, and prevent PCP-induced cognitive deficits. Transplantation of interneuron precursors therefore holds therapeutic potential for treatment of human neurological diseases involving an imbalance in circuit inhibition/excitation.
  • The goal of the research in progress here is to ultimately prepare human interneuron precursors for clinical trials. Towards the therapeutic development of inhibitory neuron precursor transplantation for human neurological disorders, we have made significant progress in the differentiation of these cells from human ESCs and will complete optimization of this protocol. We will continue our investigation of rodent-derived interneuron transplantation to obtain relevant preclinical data for dose response, safety and efficacy in animal models. These dosing and safety data will then serve as the baseline for comparison with human interneuron precursors and inform design of preclinical studies of these cells in immunosuppressed mice. Together, these data will provide essential information for developing a plan for clinical trials using human interneuron precursors.
  • During this first year, we have made considerable headway in the optimization of the human interneuron precursor differentiation protocol, verified functional engraftment of these cells in mice, and begun to collect dose, safety and efficacy data for rodent-derived interneuron transplantation. Importantly, we have achieved the development of a protocol that robustly generates interneuron-like progenitor cells from human ES cells and demonstrated that these progenitors mature in vitro and in vivo into GABAergic inhibitory interneurons with functional potential. We have also compared the behavior of primary fetal cells to these human interneuron precursor-like cells both in vivo and in vitro. As we continue to optimize our ES cell differentiation protocol, these primary interneuron precursors will enable initial human cell dose response and behavior experiments and, along with rodent-derived cells, will provide important baseline measures.
  • In sum, this work will provide essential knowledge for the therapeutic development of inhibitory neuron transplantation. The experiments underway will yield insights that will be critical to the development of a clinical trial using human interneuron precursors.
  • During the reporting period, we have developed methods to enable the optimization of inhibitory nerve precursor cell, or MGE cell, derivation from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). Optimization encompassed increasing MGE cell motility, enhancing MGE cell maturation into inhibitory nerve subtypes, and elimination of tumors post-transplantation into the rodent brain. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the injected hPSC-MGE cells functionally matured into inhibitory nerves with advanced physiological properties that integrated into the rodent brain. In addition, we determined an optimum dose of injected mouse MGE cells in rodent. Moreover, following injection of either the optimum dose or a 10-fold higher dose of mouse MGE cells, we found no detectable behavioral side effects from MGE cell transplantation.
  • In this reporting period, we continued to improve the acquisition of migratory medial ganglionic eminence (MGE)-type interneurons from human embryonic stem cells (hESC). We compared alternative procedures by testing MGE marker expression, and we developed additional tests to measure cell division and migration of MGE cell made from hESCs. We also extended our methods to clinical-grade hESC lines. With these optimized procedures, both research and clinical grade lines were transplanted into the rodent brain. In addition, we completed an evaluation of human fetal MGE transplants after-injection into the rodent brain. Finally, we report safety, survival, and neuronal differentiation of both hESC-MGE and human Fetal-MGE grafts at three months post-injection into the brain of the non-human primate rhesus macaque. A manuscript is in preparation concerning this work. Our work has continued to show the viability of using a cell therapy technique in the potential treatment of brain-related disease.
Funding Type: 
Research Leadership
Grant Number: 
LA1-08015
Investigator: 
Institution: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$6 368 285
Disease Focus: 
Heart Disease
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
iPS Cell
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
Public Abstract: 

Tissues derived from stem cells can serve multiple purposes to enhance biomedical therapies. Human tissues engineered from stem cells hold tremendous potential to serve as better substrates for the discovery and development of new drugs, accurately model development or disease progression, and one day ultimately be used directly to repair, restore and replace traumatically injured and chronically degenerative organs. However, realizing the full potential of stem cells for regenerative medicine applications will require the ability to produce constructs that not only resemble the structure of real tissues, but also recapitulate appropriate physiological functions. In addition, engineered tissues should behave similarly regardless of the varying source of cells, thus requiring robust, reproducible and scalable methods of biofabrication that can be achieved using a holistic systems engineering approach. The primary objective of this research proposal is to create models of cardiac and neural human tissues from stem cells that can be used for various purposes to improve the quality of human health.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

California has become internationally renowned as home to the world's most cutting-edge stem cell biology and a global leader of clinical translation and commercialization activities for stem cell technologies and therapies. California has become the focus of worldwide attention due in large part to the significant investment made by the citizens of the state to prioritize innovative stem cell research as a critical step in advancing future biomedical therapies that can significantly improve the quality of life for countless numbers of people suffering from traumatic injuries, congenital disorders and chronic degenerative diseases. At this stage, additional investment in integration of novel tissue engineering principles with fundamental stem cell research will enable the development of novel human tissue constructs that can be used to further the translational use of stem cell-derived tissues for regenerative medicine applications. This proposal would enable the recruitment of a leading biomedical engineer with significant tissue engineering experience to collaborate with leading cardiovascular and neural investigators. The expected result will be development of new approaches to engineer transplantable tissues from pluripotent stem cell sources leading to new regenerative therapies as well as an enhanced understanding of mechanisms regulating human tissue development.

Funding Type: 
Research Leadership
Grant Number: 
LA1-06919
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$6 443 455
Disease Focus: 
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Neurological Disorders
Spinal Cord Injury
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Stem cells offer tremendous potential to treat previously intractable diseases. The clinical translation of these therapies, however, presents unique challenges. One challenge is the absence of robust methods to monitor cell location and fate after delivery to the body. The delivery and biological distribution of stem cells over time can be much less predictable compared to conventional therapeutics, such as small-molecule therapeutic drugs. This basic fact can cause road blocks in the clinical translation, or in the regulatory path, which may cause delays in getting promising treatments into patients. My research aims to meet these challenges by developing new non-invasive cell tracking platforms for emerging stem cell therapies. Recent progress in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has demonstrated the feasibility of non-invasive monitoring of transplanted cells in patients. This project will build on these developments by creating next-generation cell tracking technologies with improved detectability and functionality. Additionally, I will provide leadership in the integration of non-invasive cell tracking into stem cell clinical trials. Specifically, this project will follow three parallel tracks. (1) The first track leverages molecular genetics to develop new nucleic acid-based MRI reporters. These reporters provide instructions to program a cell’s innate machinery so that they produce special proteins with magnetic properties that impart MRI contrast to cells, and allow the cells to be seen. My team will create neural stem cell lines with MRI reporters integrated into their genome so that those neural stem cell lines, and their daughter cells, can be tracked days and months after transfer into a patient. (2) The second track will develop methods to detect stem cell viability in vivo using perfluorocarbon-based biosensors that can measure a stem cell's intracellular oxygen level. This technology can potentially be used to measure stem cell engraftment success, to see if the new cells are joining up with the other cells where they are placed. (3) The third project involves investigating the role that the host’s inflammatory response plays in stem cell engraftment. These studies will employ novel perfluorocarbon imaging probes that enable MRI visualization and quantification of places in the body where inflammation is occurring. Overall, MRI cell tracking methods will be applied to new stem cell therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and other disease states, in collaboration with CIRM-funded investigators.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

California leads the nation in supporting stem cell research with the aim of finding cures for major diseases afflicting large segments of the state’s population. Significant resources are invested in the design of novel cellular therapeutic strategies and associated clinical trials. To accelerate the clinical translation of these potentially live saving therapies, many physicians need method to image the behavior and movement of cells non-invasively following transplant into patients. My research aims to meet these challenges by developing new cell tracking imaging platforms for emerging stem cell therapies. Recent progress in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has demonstrated the feasibility of non-invasive monitoring of transplanted cells in patients. This project will build on these developments by leading the integration of MRI cell tracking into stem cell clinical trials and by developing next-generation technologies with improved sensitivity and functionality. Initially, MRI cell tracking methods will be applied to new stem cell therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and spinal cord injury. In vivo MRI cell tracking can accelerate the process of deciding whether to continue at the preclinical and early clinical trial stages, and can facilitate smaller, less costly trials by enrolling smaller patient numbers. Imaging can potentially yield data about stem cell engraftment success. Moreover, MRI cell tracking can help improve safety profiling and can potentially lower regulatory barriers by verifying survival and location of transplanted cells. Overall, in vivo MRI cell tracking can help maximize the impact of the State’s investment in stem cell therapies by speeding-up clinical translation into patients. These endeavors are intrinsically collaborative and multidisciplinary. My project will create a new Stem Cell Imaging Center (SCIC) in California with a comprehensive set of ways to elucidate anatomical, functional, and molecular behavior of stem cells in model systems. The SCIC will provide scientific leadership to stem cell researchers and clinicians in the region, including a large number of CIRM-funded investigators who wish to bring state-of-the-art imaging into their clinical development programs. Importantly, the SCIC will focus intellectual talent on biological imaging for the state and the country. This project will help make MRI cell tracking more widespread clinically and position California to take a leadership role in driving this technology. An extensive infrastructure of MRI scanners already exist in California, and these advanced MRI methods would use this medical infrastructure better to advance stem cell therapies. Moreover, this project will lead to innovative new MRI tools and pharmaceutical imaging agents, thus providing economic benefits to California via the formation of new commercial products, industrial enterprises, and jobs.

Progress Report: 
  • Stem cells offer tremendous potential to treat previously intractable diseases. However, the clinical translation of these therapies presents unique challenges. One of which is the absence of robust methods to monitor cell location and fate after delivery to the body. The delivery and biological distribution of stem cells over time can be much less predictable compared to conventional therapeutics, such as small-molecule therapeutic drugs. This basic fact can cause road blocks in the clinical translation, or in the regulatory path, which may cause delays in getting promising treatments into patients. My research aims to meet these challenges by developing new non-invasive cell tracking platforms for emerging stem cell therapies. Recent progress in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has demonstrated the feasibility of non-invasive monitoring of transplanted cells in patients. This project will build on these developments, by creating next-generation cell tracking technologies with improved detectability and functionality. In year 1 of this project, we have begun to evaluate emerging stem cell imaging technologies called MRI reporters, or DNA-based instructions, that when placed into a cell’s genome causes the cell to produce a protein that is detectable with MRI. We have constructed human neural progenitor cell (NPC) lines that integrally contain the MRI reporter so that the primary cell and its progeny can be visualized using MRI. This technology enables long term tracking of the NPCs’ fate and movements in the body. We use an NPC cell type that is currently being used in clinical trials to treat major diseases such as ALS and spinal cord injury. Our initial MRI experiments in a model system have demonstrated MRI detection of NPCs following transfer into the brain. In other developments over the past year, we have helped build a new multi-modal in vivo molecular imaging center at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. This new resource is now fully functional and is able to serve a broad range of stem cell investigators at the Consortium, adjacent academic institutions, and local industry. Ongoing activities include the implementation of the most up-to-date methodologies for in vivo cell tracking using the molecular imaging instruments, as well as educating stem cell scientists at the Sanford Consortium and elsewhere in the region about the value of non-invasive imaging for accelerating their research.
  • Stem cells offer tremendous potential to treat previously intractable diseases. However, the clinical translation of these therapies presents unique challenges. One of which is the absence of robust methods to monitor cell location and fate after delivery to the body. The delivery and biological distribution of stem cells over time can be much less predictable compared to conventional therapeutics, such as small-molecule therapeutic drugs. This basic fact can cause road blocks in the clinical translation, or in the regulatory path, which may cause delays in getting promising treatments into patients. My research aims to meet these challenges by developing new non-invasive cell tracking platforms for emerging stem cell therapies. Recent progress in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has demonstrated the feasibility of non-invasive monitoring of transplanted cells in patients. This project will build on these developments, by creating next-generation cell tracking technologies with improved detectability and functionality. In year 2 of this project, we have made excellent progress in developing a new generation of probes for MRI-based cell tracking. These probes are based on perfluorocarbon (PFC) emulsions and have greatly improved sensitivity over prior PFC-based probes used in clinical trials. Via novel chemical synthesis schemes, the probes incorporate metal ions in the PFC to yield agents with greatly enhanced sensitivity and data acquisition speed during the MRI scan. Using these agents, we describe preliminary assessments of the biocompatibility, cell labeling stability, and in vivo MRI cell detection studies in model systems. Overall, future improvements in sensitivity of the probes will only accelerate adoption of this technology and open up new uses for MRI cell tracking; towards this goal, the excellent stability and MRI properties of our next-generation PFC probes should advance this field.
Funding Type: 
Research Leadership
Grant Number: 
LA1-06535
Investigator: 
Institution: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$6 718 471
Disease Focus: 
Parkinson's Disease
Neurological Disorders
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 

Protection and cell repair strategies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease (“PD”) depend on well-characterized candidate human stem cells that are robust and show promise for generating the neurons of interest following stimulation of inherent brain stem cells or after cell transplantation. These stem cells must also be expandable in the culture dish without unwanted growth and differentiation into cancer cells, they must survive the transplantation process or, if endogenous brain stem cells are stimulated, they should insinuate themselves in established brain networks and hopefully ameliorate the disease course.
The studies proposed for the CIRM Research Leadership Award have three major components that will help better understand the importance and uses of stem cells for the treatment of PD, and at the same time get a better insight into their role in disease repair and causation. First, we will characterize adult human neural stem cells from control and PD brain specimens to distinguish their genetic signatures and physiological properties of these cells. This will allow us to determine if there are stem cells that are pathological and fail in their supportive role in repairing the nervous system. Next, we will investigate a completely novel disease initiation and propagation mechanism, based on the concept that secreted vesicles from cells (also known as “exosomes”) containing a PD-associated protein, alpha-synuclein, propagate from cell-to cell. Our hypothesis is that these exosomes carry toxic forms of alpha-synuclein from cell to cell in the brain, thereby accounting disease spread. They may do the same with cells transplanted in patients with PD, thereby causing these newly transplanted cells designed to cure the disease, to be affected by the same process that causes the disease itself. This is a bottleneck that needs to be overcome for neurotransplantation to take its place as a standard treatment for PD.
Our studies will address disease-associated toxicity of exosomal transmission of aggregated proteins in human neural precursor stem cells. Importantly, exosomes in spinal fluid or other peripheral tissues such as blood might represent a potentially early and reliable disease biomarker as well as a new target for molecular therapies aimed at blocking transcellular transmission of PD-associated molecules.
Finally, we have chosen pre-clinical models with α-synucleinopathies to test human neural precursor stem cells as cell replacement donors for PD as well as interrogate, for the first time, their potential susceptibility to PD and contribution to disease transmission. These studies will provide a new standard of analysis of human neural precursor cells at risk for and contributing to pathology (so-called “stem cell pathologies”) in PD and other neurodegenerative diseases via transmission of altered or toxic proteins from one cell to another.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

According to the National Institute of Health, Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in California and the United States (one in 100 people over 60 is affected) second only to Alzheimer’s Disease. Millions of Americans are challenged by PD, and according to the Parkinson’s Action Network, every 9 minutes a new case of PD is diagnosed. The cause of the majority of idiopathic PD is unknown. Identified genetic factors are responsible for less than 5% of cases and environmental factors such as pesticides and industrial toxins have been repeatedly linked to the disease. However, the vast majority of PD is thought to be etiologically multi-factorial, resulting from both genetic and environmental risk factors. Important events leading to PD probably occur in early or mid adult life. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, “…there is no objective test, or reliable biomarker for PD, so rate of misdiagnosis is high, and there is a seriously pressing need to develop better early detection approaches to be able to attempt disease-halting protocols at a non-symptomatic, so-called prodromal stage.”
The proposed innovative and transformative research program will have a major direct impact for patients who live in California and suffer from PD and other related neurodegenerative diseases. If these high-risk high-pay-off studies are deemed successful, this new program will have tackled major culprits in the PD field. They could lead to a better understanding of the role of stem cells in health and disease. Furthermore they could greatly advance our knowledge of how the disease spreads throughout the brain which in turn could lead to entire new strategies to halt disease progression. In a similar manner these studies could lead to ways to prevent the disease from spreading to cells that have been transplanted to the brain of Parkinson’s patients in an attempt to cure their disease. This is critical for neurotransplantation to thrive as a therapeutic approach to treating PD. In addition, if we extend the cell-to-cell transmissible disease hypothesis to other neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer, the studies proposed here represent a new diagnostic approach and therapeutic targets for many diseases affecting Californians and humankind in general.
This CIRM Research Leadership Award will not only have an enormous impact on understanding the cause of PD and developing new therapeutic strategies using stem cells and its technologies, this award will also be the foundation of creating a new Center for Translational Stem Cell Research within California. This could lead to further growth at the academic level and for the biotechnology industry, particularly in the area regenerative medicine.

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.

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