Neurological Disorders

Coding Dimension ID: 
303
Coding Dimension path name: 
Neurological Disorders

Embryonic-Derived Neural Stem Cells for Treatment of Motor Sequelae following Sub-cortical Stroke

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01480
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$20 000 000
Disease Focus: 
Stroke
Neurological Disorders
Collaborative Funder: 
Germany
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
A stroke kills brain cells by interrupting blood flow. The most common “ischemic stroke” is due to blockage in blood flow from a clot or narrowing in an artery. Brain cells deprived of oxygen can die within minutes. The loss of physical and mental functions after stroke is often permanent and includes loss of movement, or motor, control. Stroke is the number one cause of disability, the second leading cause of dementia, and the third leading cause of death in adults. Lack of movement or motor control leads to job loss and withdrawal from pre-stroke community interactions in most patients and institutionalization in up to one-third of stroke victims. The most effective treatment for stroke, thrombolytics or “clot-busters”, can be administered only within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke. This narrow time window severely limits the number of stroke victims that may benefit from this treatment. This proposal develops a new therapy for stroke based on embryonic stem cells. Because our (and others’) laboratory research has shown that stem cells can augment the brain’s natural repair processes after stroke, these cells widen the stroke treatment opportunity by targeting the restorative or recovery phase (weeks or months after stroke instead of several hours). Embryonic stem cells can grow in a culture dish, but have the ability to produce any tissue in the body. We have developed a technique that allows us to restrict the potential of embryonic stem cells to producing cell types that are found in the brain, making them “neural stem cells”. These are more appropriate for treating stroke and may have lower potential for forming tumors. When these neural stem cells are transplanted into the brains of mice or rats one week after a stroke, the animals are able to regain strength in their limbs. Based on these findings, we propose in this grant to further develop these neural stem cells into a clinical development program for stroke in humans at the end of this grant period. This proposal develops a multidisciplinary team that will rigorously test the effectiveness of stem cell delivery in several models of stroke, while simultaneously developing processes for the precise manufacture, testing and regulatory approval of a stem cell therapy intended for human use. Each step in this process consists of definite milestones that must be achieved, and provides measurable assessment of progress toward therapy development. To accomplish this task, the team consists of stroke physician/scientists, pharmacologists, toxicologists, experts in FDA regulatory approval and key collaborations with biotechnology firms active in this area. This California-based team has a track record of close interactions and brings prior stroke clinical trial and basic science experience to the proposed translation of a stem cell therapy for stroke.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The State of California has made a historic investment in harnessing the potential of stem cells for regenerative therapy. While initially focused on developing new stem cell technologies, CIRM has recognized that translational progress from laboratory to clinic must also be fostered, for this is ultimately how Californians will benefit from their investment. Our focus on developing a neuro-restorative therapy for treatment of motor sequelae following sub-cortical stroke contains several benefits to California. The foremost benefit will be the development of a novel form of therapy for a major medical burden: The estimated economic burden for stroke exceeds $56.8 billion per year in the US, with 55% of this amount supporting chronic care of stroke survivors (1). While the stroke incidence markedly increases in the next half-century, death rates from stroke have declined. These statistics translate into an expected large increase in disabled stroke survivors (1) that will have a significant impact on many aspects of life for the average Californian. Stroke is the third greatest cause of death, and a leading cause of disability, among Californians. Compared to the nation, California has slightly above average rates for stroke (2). Treatments that improve repair and recovery in stroke will reduce this clinical burden. The team that has been recruited for this grant is made of uniquely qualified members, some of whom were involved in the development, manufacturing and regulatory aspects of the first clinical trial for safety of neural stem cells for stroke. Thus not only is the proposed work addressing a need that affects most Californians, it will result in the ability to initiate clinical studies of stem cells for stroke recovery from a consortium of academic and biotechnology groups in California. 1. Carmichael, ST. (2008) Themes and strategies for studying the biology of stroke recovery in the poststroke epoch. Stroke 39(4):1380-8. 2. Reynen DJ, Kamigaki AS, Pheatt N, Chaput LA. The Burden of Cardiovascular Disease in California: A Report of the California Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Public Health, 2007.
Progress Report: 
  • A stroke kills brain cells by interrupting blood flow. The most common “ischemic stroke” is due to blockage in blood flow from a clot or narrowing in an artery. Brain cells deprived of oxygen can die within minutes. The loss of physical and mental functions after stroke is often permanent and includes loss of movement, or motor, control. Stroke is the number one cause of disability, the second leading cause of dementia, and the third leading cause of death in adults. Lack of movement or motor control leads to job loss and withdrawal from pre-stroke community interactions in most patients and institutionalization in up to one-third of stroke victims. The most effective treatment for stroke, thrombolytics or “clot-busters”, can be administered only within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke. This narrow time window severely limits the number of stroke victims that may benefit from this treatment. This proposal develops a new therapy for stroke based on embryonic stem cells. Because our (and others’) laboratory research has shown that stem cells can augment the brain’s natural repair processes after stroke, these cells widen the stroke treatment opportunity by targeting the restorative or recovery phase (weeks or months after stroke instead of several hours).
  • Embryonic stem cells can grow in a culture dish, but have the ability to produce any tissue in the body. We have developed a technique that allows us to restrict the potential of embryonic stem cells to producing cell types that are found in the brain, making them “neural stem cells”. These are more appropriate for treating stroke and may have lower potential for forming tumors. When these neural stem cells are transplanted into the brains of mice or rats one week after a stroke, the animals are able to regain strength in their limbs. Based on these findings, we propose in this grant to further develop these neural stem cells into a clinical development program for stroke in humans at the end of this grant period.
  • A multidisciplinary team is working rigorously to test the effectiveness of stem cell delivery in several models of stroke, while simultaneously developing processes for the precise manufacture, testing and regulatory approval of a stem cell therapy intended for human use. Each step in this process consists of definite milestones that are being achieved, providing measurable assessment of progress toward therapy development. To accomplish this task, the team consists of stroke physician/scientists, pharmacologists, toxicologists, experts in FDA regulatory approval and key collaborations with a biotechnology manufacturer active in this area. This California-based team has a track record of close interactions and brings prior stroke clinical trial and basic science experience to the proposed translation of a stem cell therapy for stroke.
  • In the first year of this program, the cells have been translated from an encouraging research level to a product which can be manufactured under conditions suitable for human administration. This has included optimization of the production process, development of reliable tests to confirm cell identity and function, and characterization of the cells utilizing these tests. In animal models in two additional laboratories , improvement in motor function following stroke has been confirmed. The method of administration has also been carefully studied. It has been determined that the cells will be administered around the area of stroke injury rather than directly into the middle of the stroke area. These results encourage the translation of this product from research into clinical trials for the treatment of motor deficit following stroke.
  • A stroke kills brain cells by interrupting blood flow. The most common “ischemic stroke” is due to blockage in blood flow from a clot or narrowing in an artery. Brain cells deprived of oxygen can die within minutes. The loss of physical and mental functions after stroke is often permanent and includes loss of movement, or motor, control. Stroke is the number one cause of disability, the second leading cause of dementia, and the third leading cause of death in adults. Lack of movement or motor control leads to job loss and withdrawal from pre-stroke community interactions in most patients and institutionalization in up to one-third of stroke victims. The most effective treatment for stroke, thrombolytics or “clot-busters”, can be administered only within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke. This narrow time window severely limits the number of stroke victims that may benefit from this treatment. This proposal develops a new therapy for stroke based on embryonic stem cells. Because our (and others’) laboratory research has shown that stem cells can augment the brain’s natural repair processes after stroke, these cells widen the stroke treatment opportunity by targeting the restorative or recovery phase (weeks or months after stroke instead of several hours).
  • Embryonic stem cells can grow in a culture dish, but have the ability to produce any tissue in the body. We have developed a technique that allows us to restrict the potential of embryonic stem cells to producing cell types that are found in the brain, making them “neural stem cells”. These are more appropriate for treating stroke and may have lower potential for forming tumors. When these neural stem cells are transplanted into the brains of mice or rats one week after a stroke, the animals are able to regain strength in their limbs. Based on these findings, we propose in this grant to further develop these neural stem cells into a clinical development program for stroke in humans at the end
  • of this grant period.
  • A multidisciplinary team is working rigorously to test the effectiveness of stem cell delivery in several models of stroke, while simultaneously developing processes for the precise manufacture, testing and regulatory approval of a stem cell therapy intended for human use. Each step in this process consists
  • of definite milestones that are being achieved, providing measurable assessment of progress toward therapy development. To accomplish this task, the team consists of stroke physician/scientists, pharmacologists, toxicologists, experts in FDA regulatory approval and key collaborations with a biotechnology manufacturer active in this area. This California-based team has a track record of close interactions and brings prior stroke clinical trial and basic science experience to the proposed translation of a stem cell therapy for stroke.
  • A stroke kills brain cells by interrupting blood flow. The most common “ischemic stroke” is due to blockage in blood flow from a clot or narrowing in an artery. Brain cells deprived of oxygen can die within minutes. The loss of physical and mental functions after stroke is often permanent and includes loss of movement, or motor control. Stroke is the number one cause of disability, the second leading cause of dementia, and the third leading cause of death in adults. Lack of movement or motor control leads to job loss and withdrawal from pre-stroke community interactions in most patients and institutionalization in up to one-third of stroke victims. The most effective treatment for stroke, thrombolytics or “clot-busters”, can be administered only within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke. This narrow time window severely limits the number of stroke victims that may benefit from this treatment. This proposal develops a new therapy for stroke based on embryonic stem cells. Because our (and others’) laboratory research has shown that stem cells can augment the brain’s natural repair processes after stroke, these cells widen the stroke treatment opportunity by targeting the restorative or recovery phase (weeks or months after stroke instead of several hours).
  • Embryonic stem cells can grow in a culture dish, but have the ability to produce any tissue in the body. We have developed a technique that allows us to restrict the potential of embryonic stem cells to producing cell types that are found in the brain, making them “neural stem cells”. These are more appropriate for treating stroke and may have lower potential for forming tumors. When these neural stem cells are transplanted into the brains of mice or rats one week after a stroke, the animals are able to regain strength in their limbs. Based on these findings this grant is supporting conduct of IND-enabling work to initiate a clinical development program for stroke in humans by the end of this grant period.
  • A multidisciplinary team is working rigorously to test the effectiveness of stem cell delivery in several models of stroke, while enabling precise manufacture, testing and regulatory clearance of a first in human clinical trial. Defined milestones are being achieved, providing measurable assessment of progress toward therapy development. Definitive manufacturing and pharmacology studies are underway and regulatory filings are in progress. The team consists of stroke physician/scientists, pharmacologists, toxicologists, experts in FDA regulatory and key collaborations with a biotechnology manufacturer active in this area. This California-based team has a track record of close interactions and brings prior stroke clinical trial and basic science experience to the proposed translation of a stem cell therapy for stroke.
  • A stroke kills brain cells by interrupting blood flow. The most common 'ischemic stroke' is due to blockage in blood flow from a clot or narrowing in an artery. Brain cells deprived of oxygen can die within minutes. The loss of physical and mental functions after stroke is often permanent and includes loss of movement, or motor, control. Stroke is the number one cause of disability, the second leading cause of dementia, and the third leading cause of death in adults. Lack of movement or motor control leads to job loss and withdrawal from pre-stroke community interactions in most patients and institutionalization in up to one-third of stroke victims. The most effective treatment for stroke, thrombolytics or 'clot-busters', can be administered only within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke. This narrow time window severely limits the number of stroke victims that may benefit from this treatment. This proposal develops a new therapy for stroke based on embryonic stem cells. Because our (and others') laboratory research has shown that stem cells can augment the brain's natural repair processes after stroke, these cells widen the stroke treatment opportunity by targeting the restorative or recovery phase (weeks or months after stroke instead of several hours).
  • Embryonic stem cells can grow in a culture dish, but have the ability to produce any tissue in the body. We have developed a technique that allows us to restrict the potential of embryonic stem cells to producing cell types that are found in the brain, making them 'neural stem cells'. These are more appropriate for treating stroke and may have lower potential for forming tumors. When these neural stem cells are transplanted into the brains of mice or rats one week after a stroke, the animals are able to regain strength in their limbs. Based on these findings this grant is supporting conduct of IND-enabling work to initiate a clinical development program for stroke in humans by the end of this grant period.
  • A multidisciplinary team is working to test the effectiveness of stem cell delivery in several models of stroke, while enabling precise manufacture, testing and regulatory clearance of a first in human clinical trial. Defined milestones are being achieved, providing measurable assessment of progress toward therapy development. Definitive manufacturing and pharmacology studies are underway and regulatory filings are in progress. The team consists of stroke physicians/scientists, pharmacologists, toxicologists, experts in FDA regulatory and key collaborations with a biotechnology manufacturer active in this area. This California-based team has a track record of close interactions and brings prior stroke clinical trial and basic science experience to the proposed translation of a stem cell therapy for stroke.

Use of iPS cells (iPSCs) to develop novels tools for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy.

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies II
Grant Number: 
RT2-02040
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 933 022
Disease Focus: 
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is one of the most common lethal genetic diseases in children. One in thirty five people carry a mutation in a gene called survival of motor neurons 1 (SMN1) which is responsible for this disease. If two carriers have children together they have a one in four chance of having a child with SMA. Children with Type I SMA seem fine until around 6 months of age, at which time they begin to show lack of muscular development and slowly develop a "floppy" syndrome over the next 6 months. Following this period, SMA children become less able to move and are eventually paralyzed by the disease by 3 years of age or earlier. We know that this mutation causes the death of motor neurons - which are important for making muscle cells work. Interestingly, there is a second gene which can lessen the severity of the disease process (SMN2). Children with more copies of this modifying gene have less severe symptoms and can live for longer periods of time (designated Type II, III and IV and living longer periods respectively). There is no therapy for SMA at the current time. One of the roadblocks is that there are no human models for this disorder as it is very difficult to make the motor neurons that die in the disease in the laboratory. The researchers in the current proposal have recently created pluripotent stem cells from a patient with Type I SMA (the most severe) and shown that motor neurons grown out from the pluripotent stem cells also die in the culture dish just like they do in children. This is an important model for SMA. The proposed research takes this model of SMA and extends it to Type II and Type III children in order to have a wider range of disease severity in the culture dish (Type IV is very rare and difficult to get samples from). It then develops new technologies to produce very large numbers of motor neurons and perform large scale analysis of their survival profiles. Finally, it will explore whether novel compounds can slow down the degeneration of motor neurons in this model which should lead to the discovery of dew drugs that then may be used to treat the disease.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The aim of this research is to develop novel drugs to treat a lethal childhood disease - SMA. There would be three immediate benefits to the state of California and its citizens. 1. Children in California would have access to novel drugs to slow or prevent their disease. 2. SMA is a world wide disease. The institutions involved with the research would be able to generate income from any new drugs developed and the profit from this would come back to California. 3. The project will employ a number of research staff in Californian institutions
Progress Report: 
  • This year we have created a large number of new SMA lines, developed ways to differentiate them into motor neurons using high content dishes, and begun to analyze the health of the motor neurons over time. We have also submitted a new paper showing that much of the cell death seen in the dying motor neurons is due to apoptosis - a form of cell death that is treatable with specific types of drug. We are now using these new lines to begin setting up screening runs with drug libraries and should be able to start these in the new year of funding.
  • In this year we have made more induced pluripotent stem (iPSC) cell lines from Spinal Muscular Atrophy patients also using blood cells in addition to skin cells. Blood cells from patients are usually more readi;y accessible. As such, this technique can be used to make larger bank of similar cell lines. We have also rigorously tested all the iPSCs them for their quality. These lines are now available for distribution to other California researchers along with a certificate of analysis.
  • Motor neurons are a type of neuron that control muscle movement and are markedly destroyed in SMA patients. In order for these powerful iPS cells form patients to be useful for discovering new drugs for SMA it is very important that we can make motor neurons from iPSCs in large quantities of millions to billions in number. Only then will testing of thousands to millions of new drugs would be feasible in neurons from SMA patients. To this end, we have created a method for making a predecessor cell type to human motor neurons from human iPSCs in a petri dish. These predecessor cells, known as motor neuron precursor spheres (iMNPS), are grown as clumps of floating spherical balls, each containing thousands such cells that are grown in large numbers repeatedly for long periods of time. We have made these iMNPS now from many SMA patients as well as healthy humans. These spheres can be preserved for long period of time by freezing them at very low temperatures. They are then awoken at a later time making it convenient for testing large numbers of drugs.
  • Since iPSCs have the power to make any cell type in the human body, they can also be contaminated with other unwanted types of cells. Typically such a technique is very difficult to accomplish in pluripotent stem cells such as embryonic and iPSCs. Therefore, we have designed a more efficient scheme to generate iPSC lines from SMA patients that will become fluorescent color (green, red or blue) when then motor neurons are made from iPSCs. These types of cells are known as reporter cell lines. This will aid in picking out the desired cell type from patient iPSCs, in this case a motor neuron, and discard any unwanted cell types. This will enormously simplify testing of new drugs in SMA patient motor neurons.
  • Deficiency of an important protein in SMA patients is one of the key causes to the course of the disease. We have also designed an automated method for identifying new drugs in patient motor neurons that will test for correction of SMN protein levels in motor neurons.
  • In Year 3 we completed making all iPSC lines from Spinal Muscular Atrophy patients. We rigorously tested all the iPSCs for quality. These lines are now available for distribution to other California researchers along with a quality control certificate.
  • Motor neurons are a type of neuron that control muscle movement and are markedly destroyed in SMA patients. In order for these powerful iPS cells form patients to be useful for discovering new drugs for SMA it is very important that we can make motor neurons from iPSCs in billions and repeatedly. Only then will testing of thousands to millions of new drugs would be feasible in neurons from SMA patients.
  • To this end, we have created a method for making a predecessor cell type to human motor neurons from human iPSCs in a petri dish. These predecessor cells, known as motor neuron precursor spheres (iMPS), are grown as clumps of floating spherical balls, each containing thousands such cells that are grown in large numbers repeatedly for long periods of time. We have now tested our method in multiple patient cells and characterized these spheres. The iMPS have now been produced from many SMA patients as well as healthy humans. The next step we have developed is to take the iMPS to make motor neurons that are similar to those that are affected in SMA children. We have then discovered a method for creating them quickly. These aggregate spheres and spinal cord motor neurons from them can be preserved for long period of time by freezing them at very low temperatures. They are then awoken at a later time making it convenient for testing large numbers of drugs.
  • Since iPSCs have the power to make any cell type in the human body, they can also be contaminated with other unwanted types of cells. Typically such a technique is very difficult to accomplish in pluripotent stem cells such as embryonic and iPSCs. Therefore, we have designed a more efficient scheme to generate iPSC lines from SMA patients that will become fluorescent color (green, red or blue) when then motor neurons are made from iPSCs. These types of cells are known as reporter cell lines. This will aid in picking out the desired cell type from patient iPSCs, in this case a motor neuron, and discard any unwanted cell types. This will enormously simplify testing of new drugs in SMA patient motor neurons. Using new technologies that can edit, cut, copy, and paste new DNA in the stem cell genome, we are also developing ways to engineer iPS cell lines that will tag the motor neurons when they are made. This will allow us another method for making pure motor neurons and tracking them in a dish among other types of cells while they are alive.
  • Deficiency of an important SMN protein in SMA patients is one of the key causes to the course of the disease. An automated method has been developed for identifying what causes the SMA neurons to become sick and test new drugs in motor neurons. We are now gearing up to test some ~1400 known compounds on patient motor neurons to determine whether we can raise SMN protein levels in motor neurons.

Development and preclinical testing of new devices for cell transplantation to the brain.

Funding Type: 
Tools and Technologies II
Grant Number: 
RT2-01975
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 831 723
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Parkinson's Disease
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The surgical tools currently available to transplant cells to the human brain are crude and underdeveloped. In current clinical trials, a syringe and needle device has been used to inject living cells into the brain. Because cells do not spread through the brain tissue after implantation, multiple brain penetrations (more than ten separate needle insertions in some patients) have been required to distribute cells in the diseased brain region. Every separate brain penetration carries a significant risk of bleeding and brain injury. Furthermore, this approach does not result in effective distribution of cells. Thus, our lack of appropriate surgical tools and techniques for clinical cell transplantation represents a significant roadblock to the treatment of brain diseases with stem cell based therapies. A more ideal device would be one that can distribute cells to large brain areas through a single initial brain penetration. In rodents, cell transplantation has successfully treated a great number of different brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and stroke. However, the human brain is about 500 times larger than the mouse brain. While the syringe and needle transplantation technique works well in mice and rats, using this approach may not succeed in the much larger human brain, and this may result in failure of clinical trials for technical reasons. We believe that the poor design of current surgical tools used for cell delivery is from inadequate interactions between basic stem cell scientists, medical device engineers, and neurosurgeons. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we will first use standard engineering principles to design, fabricate, refine, and validate an innovative cell delivery device that can transplant cells to a large region of the human brain through a single brain penetration. We will then test this new prototype in a large animal brain to ensure that the device is safe and effective. Furthermore, we will create a document containing engineering drawings, manufacturing instructions, surgical details, and preclinical data to ensure that this device is readily available for inclusion in future clinical trials. By improving the safety and efficacy of cell delivery to the brain, the development of a superior device for cell transplantation may be a crucial step on the road to stem cell therapies for a wide range of brain diseases. In addition, devices and surgical techniques developed here may also be advantageous for use in other diseased organs.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The citizens of California have invested generously into stem cell research for the treatment of human diseases. While significant progress has been made in our ability to produce appropriate cell types in clinically relevant numbers for transplantation to the brain, these efforts to cure disease may fail because of our inability to effectively deliver the cells. Our proposed development of a superior device for cell transplantation may thus be a crucial step on the road to stem cell therapies for a wide range of brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, brain tumors, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and traumatic brain injury. Furthermore, devices and surgical techniques developed in our work may also be advantageous for use in other diseased organs. Thus, with successful completion of our proposal, the broad community of stem cell researchers and physician-scientists will gain access to superior surgical tools with which to better leverage our investment into stem cell therapy.
Progress Report: 
  • The surgical tools currently available to transplant cells to the human brain are crude and underdeveloped. In current clinical trials, a syringe and needle device has been used to inject living cells into the brain. Because cells do not spread through the brain tissue after implantation, multiple brain penetrations (more than ten separate needle insertions in some patients) have been required to distribute cells in the diseased brain region. Every separate brain penetration carries a significant risk of bleeding and brain injury. Furthermore, this approach does not result in effective distribution of cells. Thus, our lack of appropriate surgical tools and techniques for clinical cell transplantation represents a significant roadblock to the treatment of brain diseases with stem cell based therapies. A more ideal device would be one that can distribute cells to large brain areas through a single initial brain penetration.
  • In this first year of progress, we have designed, prototyped, and tested a stereotactic neurosurgical device capable of delivering cells to a volumetrically large target region through a single cortical brain penetration. We compared the performance of our device to a currently used cell transplantation implement – a 20G cannula with dual side ports. Through a single initial penetration, our device could transplant materials to a region greater than 4 cubic centimeters. Modeling with neurosurgical planning software indicated that our device could distribute cells within the entire human putamen – a target used in Parkinson’s disease trials – via a single transcortical penetration. While reflux of material along the penetration tract was problematic with the 20G cannula, resulting in nearly 80% loss of cell delivery, our device was resistant to reflux. We also innovated an additional system that facilitates small and precise volumes of injection. Both dilute and highly concentrated neural precursor cell populations tolerated transit through the device with high viability and unaffected developmental potential. Our device design is compatible with currently employed frame-based, frameless, and intraoperative MRI stereotactic neurosurgical targeting systems.
  • The surgical tools currently available to transplant cells to the human brain are crude and underdeveloped. In current clinical trials, a syringe and needle device has been used to inject living cells into the brain. Because cells do not spread through the brain tissue after implantation, multiple brain penetrations (more than ten separate needle insertions in some patients) have been required to distribute cells in the diseased brain region. Every separate brain penetration carries a significant risk of bleeding and brain injury. Furthermore, this approach does not result in effective distribution of cells. Thus, our lack of appropriate surgical tools and techniques for clinical cell transplantation represents a significant roadblock to the treatment of brain diseases with stem cell based therapies. A more ideal device would be one that can distribute cells to large and anatomically complex brain areas through a single initial brain penetration.
  • In the first year of progress, we designed, prototyped, and tested a stereotactic neurosurgical device capable of delivering cells to a volumetrically large target region through a single cortical brain penetration. We compared the performance of our device to a currently used cell transplantation implement – a 20G cannula with dual side ports. Through a single initial penetration, our device could transplant materials to a region greater than 4 cubic centimeters. Modeling with neurosurgical planning software indicated that our device could distribute cells within the entire human putamen – a target used in Parkinson’s disease trials – via a single transcortical penetration. While reflux of material along the penetration tract was problematic with the 20G cannula, resulting in nearly 80% loss of cell delivery, our device was resistant to reflux. We also innovated an additional system that facilitates small and precise volumes of injection. Both dilute and highly concentrated neural precursor cell populations tolerated transit through the device with high viability and unaffected developmental potential. Our device design is compatible with currently employed frame-based, frameless, and intraoperative MRI stereotactic (iMRI) neurosurgical targeting systems.
  • In this second year of progress, we have produced and tested the iMRI compatible version of our cell delivery device. The device components are fabricated from materials that are FDA-approved for use in medical devices, and we have assembled the device under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) conditions. Our device functions seamlessly with an FDA-approved stereotactic iMRI neurosurgical platform and computer-aided targeting system, and we have demonstrated that this iMRI-compatible system can deliver to the volume and shape of the human putamen through a single initial brain penetration. Thus, by using modern materials and manufacturing techniques, we have produced a neurosurgical device and technique that enables clinicians to “tailor” cell delivery to individual patient anatomical characteristics and specific disease states. This modern and “easy to use” platform technology furthermore allows “real-time” monitoring of cell delivery and unprecedented complication avoidance, increasing patient safety.
  • In this third year of progress, we have made final design refinements to the Radially Branched Deployment (RBD) cell transplantation device, which is fully compatible with currently employed interventional MRI stereotactic (iMRI) neurosurgical targeting systems. These design changes increase the "usability" of the device and enhance patient safety. The iMRI-guided RBD technology advances our ability to properly “tailor” the distribution of cell delivery to larger brain target volumes that vary in size and shape due to individual patient anatomy and different disease states. Furthermore, iMRI-guided RBD may increase patient safety by enabling intraoperative MRI monitoring. Importantly, this platform technology is easy-to-use and has a low barrier to implementation, as it can be performed “inside” essentially any typical diagnostic 1.5T MRI scanner found in most hospitals. We believe that this ease of access to the technology will facilitate the conduct of multi-site clinical trials and the future adoption of successful cellular therapies for patient care worldwide. In summary, by improving intracerebral cell delivery to the human brain, iMRI-guided RBD may have a transformative impact on the safety and efficacy of cellular therapeutics for a wide range of neurological disorders, helping ensure that basic science results are not lost in clinical translation.
  • Working with a California-based medical device manufacturer, we have developed manufacturing and testing procedures that are now being compiled into a design history file, which is a document required for eventual commercial use of the device. We are also working with an FDA regulatory consultant to prepare a 510K application to seek marketing clearance from the FDA.

Stem Cell Mechanisms Governing Discrete Waves of Gliogenesis in the Childhood Brain

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06093
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 264 248
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
White matter is the infrastructure of the brain, providing conduits for communication between neural regions. White matter continues to mature from birth until early adulthood, particularly in regions of brain critical for higher cognitive functions. However, the precise timing of white matter maturation in the various neural circuits is not well described, and the mechanisms controlling white matter developmental/maturation are poorly understood. White matter is conceptually like wires and their insulating sheath is a substance called myelin. It is clear that neural stem and precursor cells contribute significantly to white matter maturation by forming the cells that generate myelin. In the proposed experiments, we will map the precise timing of myelination in the human brain and changes in the populations of neural precursor cells that generate myelin from birth to adulthood and define mechanisms that govern the process of white matter maturation. The resulting findings about how white matter develops may provide insights for white matter regeneration to aid in therapy for diseases such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Diseases of white matter account for significant neurological morbidity in both children and adults in California. Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern white matter development the may unlock clues to the regenerative potential of endogeneous stem and precursor cells in the childhood and adult brain. Although the brain continues robust white matter development throughout childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, relatively little is known about the mechanisms that orchestrate proliferation, differentiation and functional maturation of neural stem and precursor cells to generate myelin-forming oligodendrocytes during postnatal brain development. In the present proposal, we will define how white matter precursor cell populations vary with age throughout the brain and determine if and how neuronal activity instructs neural stem and precursor cell contributions to human white matter myelin maturation. Disruption of white matter myelination is implicated in a range of neurological diseases, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, cognitive dysfunction from chemotherapy exposure, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. The results of these studies have the potential to elucidate clues to white matter regeneration that may benefit hundreds of thousands of Californians.
Progress Report: 
  • Formation of the insulated fiber infrastructure of the human brain (called "myelin") depends upon the function of a precursor cell type called "oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPC)". The first Aim of this study seeks to determine how OPCs differ from each other in different regions of the brain, and over different ages. Understanding this heterogeneity is important as we explore the regenerative capacity of this class of precursor cells. We have, in the past year, isolated OPCs from various regions of the human brain from individuals at various ages and are studying the molecular characteristics of these precursor cells at the single cell level in order to define distinct OPC subpopulations. We have also begun to study the functional capabilities of OPCs isolated from different brain regions. The second Aim of this study seeks to understand how interactions between electrically active neurons and OPCs affect OPC function and myelin formation. We have found that when mouse motor cortex neurons "fire" signals in such a way as to elicit a complex motor behavior, much as would happen when one practices a motor task, OPCs within that circuit respond and myelination increases. This affects the function of that circuit in a lasting way. These results indicate that neurons and OPCs interact in important ways to modulate myelination and supports the hypothesis that OPC function may play a role in learning.

Modeling disease in human embryonic stem cells using new genetic tools

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-05855
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 387 800
Disease Focus: 
Neuropathy
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The use of stem cells or stem cell-derived cells to treat disease is one important goal of stem cell research. A second, important use for stem cells is the creation of cellular models of human development and disease, critical for uncovering the molecular roots of illness and testing new drugs. However, a major limitation in achieving these goals is the difficulty in manipulating human stem cells. Existing means of generating genetically modified stem cells are not ideal, as they do not preserve the normal gene regulation, are inefficient, and do not permit removal of foreign genes. We have developed a method of genetically modifying mouse embryonic stem cells that is more efficient than traditional methods. We are adapting this approach for use with human embryonic stem cells, so that these cells can be better understood and harnessed for modeling, or even treating, human diseases. We will use this approach to create a human stem cell model of Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, an inherited neuropathy. How gene dysfunction leads to nerve defects in CMT is not clear, and there is no cure or specific therapy for this neurological disease. Thus, we will use our genetic tools to investigate how gene function is disrupted to cause CMT. By developing these tools and using them to gain understanding of CMT, we will illustrate how this system can be used to gain insight into other important diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Although human stem cells hold the potential to generate new understanding about human biology and new approaches to important diseases, the inability to efficiently and specifically modify stem cells currently limits the pace of research. Also, there is presently no safe means of changing genes compatible with the use of the stem cells in therapies. We are developing new genetic tools to allow for the tractable manipulation of human stem cells. By accelerating diverse other stem cell research projects, these tools will enhance the scientific and economic development of California. We will use these tools to create cellular models of Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT), a neurological disease with no cure that affects about 15,000 Californians. This model will facilitate understanding of the etiology of CMT, and may lead to insights that can be used to develop specific therapies. Beyond gaining insight into CMT, the ability to engineer specific genetic changes in human stem cells will be useful for many applications, including the creation of replacement cells for personalized therapies, reporter lines for stem cell-based drug screens, and models of other diseases. Thus, our research will assist the endeavors of the stem cell community in both the public and private arenas, contributing to economic growth and new product development. This project will also train students and postdoctoral scholars in human stem cell biology, who will contribute to the economic capacity of California.
Progress Report: 
  • An important use for stem cells is the creation of cellular models of human development and disease, critical for uncovering the molecular roots of illness and testing new drugs. However, a major limitation in achieving these goals is the difficulty in manipulating human stem cells. We have developed a method of genetically modifying mouse embryonic stem cells that is more efficient than traditional methods. During the first year of this project, we adapted this approach for use with human embryonic stem cells. We have also created gene trap mutations in a diversity of human embryonic stem cell genes that can be used to better harness human embryonic stem cells for modeling, or even treating, human diseases.

Stem cell models to analyze the role of mutated C9ORF72 in neurodegeneration

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06045
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 393 200
Disease Focus: 
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Neurological Disorders
Dementia
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is an idiopathic adult-onset degenerative disease characterized by progressive weakness from loss of upper and lower motor neurons. Onset is insidious, progression is essentially linear, and death occurs within 3-5 years in 90% of patients. In the US, 5,000 deaths occur per year and in the world, 100,000. In October, 2011, the causative gene defect in a long sought after locus on chromosome 9 for ALS, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and overlap ALS-FTD was identified to be a expansion of a hexanucleotide repeat in the uncharacterized C9ORF72 gene. The goal of the proposed research is to generate human stem cell models from cells derived from ALS patients with the C9ORF72 expanded repeats and relevant control cells using genome-editing technology. We will also generate a stem cell model expressing the repeat independent of the C9ORF72 gene to study if the repeat alone is causing neural defects. Using advanced genome technologies, biochemical and cellular approaches, we will study the molecular pathways affected in motor neurons derived from these stem cell models. Finally, we will use innovative technologies to rescue the abnormal phenotypes that arise from the expanded repeat in human motor neurons. Completion of the proposed research is expected to transform our understanding of the regulatory and pathogenetic mechanisms underlying ALS and FTD, and establish therapeutic options for these debilitating diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Our research provides the foundation for decoding the mechanisms that underlie the single most frequent genetic mutation found to contribute to both ALS and FTD, debilitating neurological diseases that impact many Californians. In California, the expected prevalence of ALS (the number of total existing cases) is 2,200 to 3,000 cases at any one time, and the incidence is 750-1,100 new cases each year. The number of FTD cases is five times as many. Our research has and will continue to serve as a basis for understanding deviations from normal and disease patient neuronal cells, enabling us to make inroards to understanding neurological disease modeling using neurons differentiated from reprogammed patient-specific lines. Such disease modeling will have great potential for California health care patients, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries in terms of improved human models for drug discovery and toxicology testing. Our improved knowledge base will support our efforts as well as other Californian researchers to study stem cell models of neurological disease and design new diagnostics and treatments, thereby maintaining California's position as a leader in clinical research.
Progress Report: 
  • Expanded hexanucleotide repeats in the C9ORF72 gene were identified in Oct 2011 as a cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), thus identifying the single most frequent genetic cause of each and connecting them to repeat expansion disease. We are developing stem cell disease models to enable key hypotheses of pathogenesis and new interventions to be tested. We have successfully engineered stem cell models to analyze the effects of C9ORF72 mutations, and have differentiated these stem cell models into motor neurons which enabled us to conduct transcriptomic and biochemical studies. In addition, we have utilized antisense-oligonucleotides (ASOs) from ISIS Pharmaceuticals to deplete mutant C9ORF72 in motor neurons. We expect our efforts to provide mechanistic insights and a potential therapy in human cells.

Mechanism and Utility of Direct Neuronal Conversion with a MicroRNA-Chromatin Switch

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-05886
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 392 426
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Many human diseases and injuries that affect the brain and nervous system could potentially be treated by either introducing healthy neurons or persuading the cells that normally provide supporting functions to become functioning neurons. A number of barriers must be traversed to bring these goals to practical therapies. Recently our laboratory and others have found ways of converting different human cell types to functioning neurons. Surprisingly, two routes for the production of neurons have been discovered. Our preliminary evidence indicates that these two routes are likely to work together and therefore more effective ways of producing neurons can likely be provided by understanding these two routes, which is one aim of this application. Another barrier to effective treatment of human neurologic diseases has been the inability to develop good models of human neurologic disease due to inability to sample tissues from patients with these diseases. Hence we will understand ways of making neurons from blood cells and other cells, which can be easily obtained from patients with little or no risk. Our third goal will be to understand how different types of neurons can be produced from patient cells. We would also like to understand the barriers and check points that keep one type of cell from becoming another another type of cell. Understanding these mysterious processes could help provide new sources of human cells for replacement therapies and disease models.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The state of California and its citizens are likely to benefit from the work described in this proposal by the development of more accurate models for the testing of drugs and new means of treatment of human neurologic diseases. Presently these diseases are among the most common afflicting Californians, as well as others and will become more common in an aging population. Common and devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, Parkinson's Disease, and others lack facile cell culture models that allow one to probe the basis of the disease and to test therapies safely and without risk to the patient. Our work is already providing these models, but we hope to make even better ones by understanding the fundamental processes that allow one cell type (such as a skin cell or blood cell) to be converted to human neurons, where the disease process can be investigated. In the past the inability to make neurons from patients with specific diseases has been a major roadblock to treatment. In the future the studies described here might be able to provide healthy neurons to replace ones loss through disease or injury.
Progress Report: 
  • During the past year, our laboratory has investigated the way that human skin cells can be changed to neurons. To do this, we have used a natural switch that occurs as embryonic cells decide to become neurons. We have found that this process proceeds in a highly ordered series of stages that involve first a resetting of fundamental cell biologic processes characteristic of neurons. This is followed by activation of genes encoding proteins that allow different types of neurons to interact and develop communication between one another. This finding surprised us since we expected to find changes in transcription factors, which instruct the formation of neurons. Instead, we find that the natural switching mechanism in neurons first regulates cell-to-cell communication.

Role of the NMD RNA Decay Pathway in Maintaining the Stem-Like State

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06345
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 360 450
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
A subset of intellectual disability cases in humans are caused by mutations in an X-linked gene essential for a quality control mechanism called nonsense-mediated RNA decay (NMD). Patients with mutations in this gene—UPF3B—commonly have not only ID, but also schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Thus, the study of UPF3B and NMD may provide insight into a wide spectrum of cognitive and psychological disorders. To examine how mutations in UPF3B can cause mental defects, we will generate and characterize induced-pluripotent stem cells from intellectual disability patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene. In addition to having a role in neural development, our recent evidence suggests that NMD is important for maintaining the identity of ES cells and progenitor cells. How does NMD do this? While NMD is a quality control mechanism, it is also a well characterized biochemical pathway that serves to rapidly degrade specific subsets of normal messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNAs), the transiently produced copies of our genetic material: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). We have obtained evidence that NMD preferentially degrades mRNAs that interfere with the stem cell program (i.e., NMD promotes the decay mRNAs encoding proteins that promote differentiation and inhibit cell proliferation). In this proposal, we will identify the target mRNAs of NMD in stem and progenitor cells and directly address the role of NMD in maintaining the stem-like state.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
iPS cells provide a means to elucidate the mechanisms underlying diseases that afflict a growing number of Californians. Our proposed project concerns making and testing iPS cells from patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene, all of whom have intellectual disabilities. In addition, many of these patients have autism, attention-deficit disorders, and schizophrenia. By using iPS cells to identify the cellular and molecular defects in these patients, we have the potential to ultimately ameliorate the symptoms of many of these patients. This is important, as over 1.6 million people in California have serious mental illness. Moreover, a large proportion of patients with UPF3B mutations have autism, a disorder that has undergone an alarming 12-fold increase in California between 1987 and 2007. The public mental health facilities in California are inadequate to meet the needs of people with mental health disorders. Furthermore, what is provided is expensive: $4.4 billion was spent on public mental health agency services in California in 2006. Mental health problems also exert a heavy burden on California’s criminal justice system. In 2006, over 11,000 children and 40,000 adults with mental health disorders were incarcerated in California’s juvenile justice system. Our research is also directed towards understanding fundamental mechanisms by which all stem cells are maintained, which has the potential to also impact non-psychiatric disorders suffered by Californians.
Progress Report: 
  • A key quality of stem cells is their ability to switch from a proliferative cell state in which they reproduce themselves to a differentiated cell state that ultimately allows them to carry out the functions of a fully mature cell. Most research on the nature of this switch has focused on the role of proteins that determine whether the genetic material—DNA—generates a copy of it itself in the form of messenger RNA, a process called transcription. In stem cells, such proteins—which are called transcription factors—activate the production of messenger RNAs encoding proteins that promote the proliferative and undifferentiated cell state. They also increase the production of messenger mRNAs that encode inhibitors of differentiation and cell proliferation. The level and profile of such transcription factors are altered in response to signals that trigger stem cells to differentiate. For example, transcription factors that promote the undifferentiated cell state are decreased in level and transcription factors that drive differentiation down a particular lineage are increased in level. While this transcription factor-centric view of stem cells explains some aspects of stem cell biology, it is, in of itself, insufficient to explain many of their behaviors, including both their ability to maintain the stem-like state and to differentiate. We hypothesize that a molecular pathway that complements transcription-base mechanisms in controlling stem cell maintenance vs. differentiation decisions is an RNA decay pathway called nonsense-mediated RNA decay (NMD). Messenger RNA decay is as important as transcription in determining the level of messenger RNA. Signals that trigger increased decay of a given messenger RNA leads to decreased levels of its encoded protein, while signals that trigger the opposite response increase the level of the encoded protein. Our project revolves around two main ideas. First, that NMD promotes the stem-like state by preferentially degrading messenger RNAs that encode differentiation-promoting proteins and proliferation inhibitor proteins. Second, that NMD must be downregulated in magnitude to allow stem cells to differentiate. During the progress period, we obtained substantial evidence for both of these hypotheses. With regard to the first hypothesis, we have used genome-wide approaches to identify hundreds of messenger RNAs that are regulated by NMD in both in vivo (in mice) and in vitro (in cell lines). To determine which of these messenger mRNAs are directly degraded by NMD, we have used a variety of approaches. This work has revealed that NMD preferentially degrades messenger RNAs encoding neural differentiation inhibitors and proliferation inhibitors in neural stem cells. In contrast, very few messenger RNAs encoding pro-stem cell proteins or pro-proliferation proteins are degraded by NMD. Together this provides support for our hypothesis that NMD promotes the stem-like state by shifting the proportion of messenger RNAs in a cell towards promoting an undifferentiated, proliferative cell state. With regard to the second hypothesis, we have found that many proteins that are directly involved in the NMD pathway are downregulated upon differentiation of stem and progenitor cells. Not only are NMD proteins reduced in level, but we find that the magnitude of NMD itself is reduced. We have used a variety of molecular techniques to determine whether this NMD downregulatory response has a role in neural differentiation and found that NMD downreglation is both necessary and sufficient for this event. Such experiments have also revealed particular messenger mRNAs degraded by NMD that are crucial for the NMD downregulatory response to promote neural differentiation. Our research has implications for intellectual disability cases in humans caused by mutations in an X-linked gene essential for NMD. Patients with mutations in this gene—UPF3B—not only have intellectual disability, but also schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Thus, the study of NMD may provide insight into a wide spectrum of cognitive and psychological disorders. We are currently in the process of generating induced-pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from intellectual disability patients with mutations in the UPF3B gene towards this goal.

Common molecular mechanisms in neurodegenerative diseases using patient based iPSC neurons

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06079
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 506 420
Disease Focus: 
Huntington's Disease
Neurological Disorders
Parkinson's Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
iPS Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
A major medical problem in CA is the growing population of individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s (PD) and Huntington’s (HD) disease. These diseases affect millions of people, sometimes during the prime of their lives, and lead to total incapacitation and ultimately death. No treatment blocks the progression of neurodegeneration. We propose to conduct fundamental studies to understand the basic common disease mechanisms of neurodegenerative disorders to begin to develop effective treatments for these diseases. Our work will target human stem cells made from cells from patients with HD and PD that are developed into the very cells that degenerate in these diseases, striatal neurons and dopamine neurons, respectively. We will use a highly integrated approach with innovative molecular analysis of gene networks that change the states of proteins in these diseases and state-of-the-art imaging technology to visualize living neurons in a culture dish to assess cause and effect relationships between biochemical changes in the cells and their gradual death. Importantly, we will test whether drugs effective in animal model systems are also effective in blocking the disease mechanisms in the human HD and PD neurons. These human preclinical studies could rapidly lead to clinical testing, since some of the drugs have already been examined extensively in humans in the past for treating other disorders and are safe.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s (PD) and Huntington’s disease (HD), are devastating to patients and families and place a major financial burden on California. No treatments effectively block progression of any neurodegenerative disease. A forward-thinking team effort will allow highly experienced investigators in neurodegenerative disease and stem cell research to investigate common basic mechanisms that cause these diseases. Most important is the translational impact of our studies. We will use neurons and astrocytes derived from patient induced pluripotent stem cells to identify novel targets and discover disease-modifying drugs to block the degenerative process. These can be quickly transitioned to testing in preclinical and clinical trials to treat HD and other neurodegenerative diseases. We are building on an existing strong team of California-based investigators to complete the studies. Future benefits to California citizens include: 1) discovery and development of new HD treatments with application to other diseases, such as PD, that affect thousands of Californians, 2) transfer of new technologies and intellectual property to the public realm with resulting IP revenues to the state with possible creation of new biotechnology spin-off companies, and 3) reductions in extensive care-giving and medical costs. We anticipate the return to the State in terms of revenue, health benefits for its Citizens and job creation will be significant.
Progress Report: 
  • The goal of our study is to identify common mechanisms that cause the degeneration of neurons and lead to most neurodegenerative disorders. Our work focuses on the protein homeostasis pathways that are disrupted in many forms of neurodegeneration, including Huntington’s disease (HD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). In this first reporting period we have made great progress in developing novel methods to probe the autophagy pathway in single cells. This pathway is involved in the turnover of misfolded proteins and dysfunction organelles. Using our novel autophagy assays, we have preliminary data that indicate that the autophagy pathway in neurons from HD patients is modulated compared to healthy controls. We have also begun validating small molecules that activate the autophagy pathway and we are now moving these inducers into human neurons from HD patients to see if they reduce toxicity or other disease related phenotypes. Using pathway analysis we have also identified specific genes within the proteostasis network that are modulated in HD. We are now testing whether modulating these genes in human neurons from HD patients can lead to a reduction in neurodegeneration. In the final part of this study we are investigating whether neurodegenerative diseases, such as HD and PD, share changes in similar genes or pathways, specifically those involved in protein homeostasis. We have now established a human neuron model for PD and have used it to identify potential targets that modulate the disease phenotype via changes in proteostasis. Using the assays, autophagy drugs and pathway analysis described above, we hope to identify overlapping targets that could potentially rescue disease associated phenotypes in both HD and PD.

Modeling Alexander disease using patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06277
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 367 172
Disease Focus: 
Neurological Disorders
Pediatrics
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Alexander disease (AxD) is a devastating childhood disease that affects neural development and causes mental retardation, seizures and spasticity. The most common form of AxD occurs during the first two years of life and AxD children show delayed mental and physical development, and die by the age of six. AxD occurs in diverse ethnic, racial, and geographic groups and there is no cure; the available treatment only temporally relieves symptoms, but not targets the cause of the disease. Previous studies have shown that specific nervous system cells called astrocytes are abnormal in AxD patients. Astrocytes support both nerve cell growth and function, so the defects in AxD astrocytes are thought to lead to the nervous system defects. We want to generate special cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from the skin or blood cells of AxD patients to create an unprecedented, new platform for the study and treatment of AxD. We can grow large quantities of iPSCs in the laboratory and then, using novel methods that we have already established, coax them to develop into AxD astrocytes. We will study these AxD astrocytes to find out how their defects cause the disease, and then use them to validate potential drug targets. In the future, these cells can also be used to screen for new drugs and to test novel treatments. In addition to benefiting AxD children, we expect that our approach and results will benefit the study of other, similar childhood nervous system diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
It is estimated that California has approximately 12% of all US cases of AxD, a devastating childhood neurological disorder that leads to mental retardation and early death. At present, there is no cure or standard treatment available for AxD. Current treatment is symptomatic only. In addition to the tremendous emotional and physical pain that this disease inflicts on Californian families, it adds a medical and fiscal burden larger than that of any other states. Therefore, there is a real need to understand the underlying mechanisms of this disease in order to develop an effective treatment strategy. Stem cells provide great hope for the treatment of a variety of human diseases. Our proposal to establish a stem cell-based cellular model for AxD could lead to the development of new therapies that will represent great potential not only for Californian health care patients, but also for the Californian pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. In addition to benefiting the treatment of AxD patients, we expect that our approach and results will benefit the study of other related neurological diseases that occur in California and the US.
Progress Report: 
  • Alexander disease (AxD) is a devastating childhood disease that affects neural development and causes mental retardation, seizures and spasticity. AxD children usually die by the age of six. AxD occurs in diverse ethnic, racial, and geographic groups and there is no cure; the available treatment only temporally relieves symptoms, but not targets the cause of the disease. Previous studies have shown that specific nervous system cells called astrocytes are abnormal in AxD patients. We generated special cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from the skin cells of AxD patients, and coaxed them to develop into AxD astrocytes. We will study these AxD astrocytes to find out how their defects cause the disease, and then use them to validate potential drug targets. In the future, these cells can also be used to screen for new drugs and to test novel treatments. In addition to benefiting AxD children, we expect that our approach and results will benefit the study of other, similar childhood nervous system diseases.

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