Virus-free, cord-blood-derived stem cells repair retinal tissue in mice
February 5, 2014
Investigators at Johns Hopkins report they have developed human induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) capable of repairing damaged retinal vascular tissue in mice.
The stem cells, derived from human umbilical cord-blood and coaxed into an embryonic-like state, were grown without the conventional use of viruses, which can mutate genes and initiate cancers, according to the scientists. Their safer method of growing the cells has drawn increased support among scientists, they say, and paves the way for a stem cell bank of to advance regenerative medicine research.
In a report published Jan. 20 in the journal Circulation, stem cell biologist Elias Zambidis, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues describe laboratory experiments with these non-viral, human retinal iPSCs, created using the virus-free method Zambidis first reported in 2011.
Plasmids used instead of viruses
“We began with stem cells taken from cord-blood, which have fewer acquired mutations and little, if any, epigenetic memory, which cells accumulate as time goes on,” says Zambidis, associate professor of oncology and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering and the Kimmel Cancer Center. The scientists converted these cells to a status last experienced when they were part of six-day-old embryos.
Instead of using viruses to deliver a gene package to the cells to turn on processes that convert the cells back to stem cell states, Zambidis and his team used plasmids — rings of DNA that replicate briefly inside cells and then degrade.
Next, the scientists identified high-quality, multipotent, vascular stem cells generated from these iPSCs that can make a type of blood vessel-rich tissue necessary for repairing retinal and other human material. They identified these cells by looking for cell surface proteins called CD31 and CD146. Zambidis says that they were able to create twice as many well-functioning vascular stem cells as compared with iPSCs made with other methods, and, “more importantly these cells engrafted and integrated into functioning blood vessels in damaged mouse retina.”
Blood vessels in retina repaired
Working with Gerard Lutty, Ph.D., and his team at Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute, Zambidis’ team injected the newly derived iPSCs into mice with damaged retinas, the light-sensitive part of the eyeball. Injections were given in the eye, the sinus cavity near the eye or into a tail vein. When the scientists took images of the mice retinas, they found that the iPSCs, regardless of injection location, engrafted and repaired blood vessel structures in the retina.
“The blood vessels enlarged like a balloon in each of the locations where the iPSCs engrafted,” says Zambidis. The scientists said their cord blood-derived iPSCs compared very well with the ability of human embryonic-derived iPSCs to repair retinal damage.
Zambidis says there are plans to conduct additional experiments of their cells in diabetic rats, whose conditions more closely resemble human vascular damage to the retina than the mouse model used for the current study, he says.
With mounting requests from other laboratories, Zambidis says he frequently shares his cord blood-derived iPSCs with other scientists. “The popular belief that iPSCs therapies need to be specific to individual patients may not be the case,” says Zambidis. He points to recent success of partially matched bone marrow transplants in humans, shown to be equally as effective as fully matched transplants.
“Support is growing for building a large bank of iPSCs that scientists around the world can access,” says Zambidis, although large resources and intense quality-control would be needed for such a feat. However, Japanese scientists led by stem-cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka are doing exactly that, he says, creating a bank of stem cells derived from cord-blood samples from Japanese blood banks.
Experiments published in Zambidis’ Circulation article were funded by grants from the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund, Research to Prevent Blindness, and the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Eye Institute, and National Cancer Institute.
University of Maryland School of Medicine and Stanford University scientists were also involved in the research.
Abstract of Circulation paper
Background – The generation of vascular progenitors (VPs) from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) has great potential for treating vascular disorders such as ischemic retinopathies. However, long-term in vivo engraftment of hiPSC-derived VPs into the retina has not yet been reported. This goal may be limited by the low differentiation yield, greater senescence, and poor proliferation of hiPSC-derived vascular cells. To evaluate the potential of hiPSCs for treating ischemic retinopathies, we generated VPs from a repertoire of viral-integrated and nonintegrated fibroblast and cord blood (CB)–derived hiPSC lines and tested their capacity for homing and engrafting into murine retina in an ischemia-reperfusion model.
Methods and Results – VPs from human embryonic stem cells and hiPSCs were generated with an optimized vascular differentiation system. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting purification of human embryoid body cells differentially expressing endothelial/pericytic markers identified a CD31+CD146+ VP population with high vascular potency. Episomal CB-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) generated these VPs with higher efficiencies than fibroblast-iPSC. Moreover, in contrast to fibroblast-iPSC-VPs, CB-iPSC-VPs maintained expression signatures more comparable to human embryonic stem cell VPs, expressed higher levels of immature vascular markers, demonstrated less culture senescence and sensitivity to DNA damage, and possessed fewer transmitted reprogramming errors. Luciferase transgene-marked VPs from human embryonic stem cells, CB-iPSCs, and fibroblast-iPSCs were injected systemically or directly into the vitreous of retinal ischemia-reperfusion–injured adult nonobese diabetic-severe combined immunodeficient mice. Only human embryonic stem cell– and CB-iPSC–derived VPs reliably homed and engrafted into injured retinal capillaries, with incorporation into damaged vessels for up to 45 days.
Conclusions – VPs generated from CB-iPSCs possessed augmented capacity to home, integrate into, and repair damaged retinal vasculature.