Dr. Valerie Hu-Autism Mother and Researcher

Unraveling complexities in search of potential treatments
I first became aware of Valerie’s Research when she called to explore how our eSC derived Human Neurons could be of value in her research. When I asked, “How do you plan on using the cells?” she gave me an overview of her fascinating research. She went on to tell me about the role her autistic son, Matthew 26, has played in her quest. This resonated with me because my Godson, Stefan 23 is autistic (see: http://www.trainmanandmom.com/).The purpose of this backstory is to give an overview of why her research is proving a key piece of the puzzle in understanding the biology of Autism. More importantly, given the lack of research funding, I am hopeful it opens the door to new sources like Microyza. These would enable those most impacted to have a direct way to participate.

Dr. Valerie Hu

Autism speaks and acts in riddles. This is the story of how Valerie is working to find the clues needed to solves these riddles.

Her Research Journey
Valerie has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaii (1972) and a PhD, also in chemistry, from Caltech (1978). She conducted postdoctoral research into membrane biochemistry and immunology at UCLA. She is currently a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Her current research has required a leap from membrane biophysics to functional genomics. The intersecting theme is both disciplines involve complex molecular biology techniques and methods.

Functional genomics adds the challenge of analyzing the expression of genes that could play a role in disease or disorder and comparing them with the same genes expressed in normal or healthy phenotypes. Then an even bigger challenge is having the expertise and tools to discover the context of how these dysfunctional genes relate to one another.

In some of her early research, she found 4,000 genes appear to behave differently in a group of severely autistic people as compared with non-autistic controls—a startling number, considering the human genome comprises 20,000 to 25,000 genes (see: Searching for Autism’s Treatable Roots). But what is causing this large set of genes to behave differently from the norm?

By mapping the relationship between these genes and integrating gene expression profiles with DNA methylation data a picture emerged. This led to the discovery of a suspected master gene whose protein expression regulates the expression of many downstream genes known to play a role in Autism. This includes genes responsible for development of the central nervous system and the ongoing regulation of neurotransmitters.

A Master Gene Speaks-RORA
The gene Valerie and her team discovered as a suspect is the nuclear hormone receptor RORA (retinoic acid-related orphan receptor-alpha-see: http://www.fasebj.org/content/early/2010/04/07/fj.10-154484.full.pdf). They found the expression of this gene is reduced in autistic brain. So how can a reduction of one gene’s protein have such a profound impact?

As nuclear hormone receptor, RORA indeed has the capability of impairing the function of downstream genes. In fact, RORA can impact a lot of them. Further, RORA has the potential to be under negative and positive regulation by androgen and estrogen, respectively, suggesting the possibility that RORA may contribute to the male bias of ASD. (see: http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0017116&representation=PDF). Note: This is a highly accessed article: > 11,000 people have already accessed this article.

By mapping the relationship between these genes and integrating gene expression profiles with DNA methylation data a picture emerged. This led to the discovery of a suspected master gene whose protein expression regulates the expression of many downstream genes known to play a role in Autism. This includes genes responsible for development of the central nervous system and the ongoing regulation of neurotransmitters.

She continues to learn more about the biology of RORA. Her recent publication (see: http://www.molecularautism.com/content/4/1/14) validates many of the transcriptional target genes of RORA.

Figure: Possible downstream consequences of deregulation of the six confirmed transcriptional targets of RORA

This shows that RORA sets off a critical mass of events leading to massive and variable disruption of gene expression. These events are ultimately manifested in the spectrum that marks Autism-impaired social and communication skills, repetitive behaviors, learning difficulties and sleeping disorders.

What’s Next?
These are breakthrough discoveries. Much more needs to be done. Some of the questions that need to be answered include: Can RORA be up regulated and how could this be done? Can RORA be dysregulated by hormone-like environmental pollutants leading to increased risk for Autism? What impact will alterations in RORA expression have on downstream genes? What are the best methods to regulate RORA…small molecule agonists? gene therapies? Cell based therapies? and so many more.

This research requires predictable and ongoing funding. Government funding is harder and harder to find. So many are impacted by children and adults with Austism, given this, I believe this research could be an ideal candidate for Crowd Funding.

Claudia Zylberberg-Cell Culturing Innovator

Taking You Cultures to New Dimensions

I am pleased to feature Dr. Claudia Zylberberg, President and CEO of Akron Biotech, in this edition of “News Behind the News”.  She is an expert and innovator in providing tools and methods for the discovery and development of cell based therapies.  This starts with potent cell based assays and culminates with the ability to provide GMP produced reagents to support animal testing and other pre-clinical trial drug discovery processes.

Scientist and Entrepreneur a Synopsis

Claudia has a background that uniquely positions her to understand and address the growing needs and requirements of the basic and drug discovery research community. This includes researchers using stem cells as for discovery and potential therapies. Here’s an overview.

With a PhD in Biotechnology from the University of British Columbia and University of Buenos Aires, Claudia has over 25 years of experience in the international biopharmaceutical industry.  At NABI Biopharmaceuticals, she and her team developed and scaled plasma-derived products and recombinant vaccines. This included harmonizing products between EMEA and FDA. She has authored and co-authored many scientific articles and developed several commercial products for use in the field of cellular biology. She has also authored a children’s book on genetics and has several patent pending products in the area of cryopreservation and QC of stem cells.

She is as an advisor for the US Pharmacopoeia in standards setting for biologics and ancillary materials critical for the production of cellular therapies.  She is a member of the BioFlorida Board of Directors, Board member of Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, Scientific Advisor for ISCT (International Society for Cell Therapy), Executive Committee Member for the Alliance of Regenerative Medicine and the Chair of the Business Advisory Board for the Banner Center of the State of Florida and is part of the organizing committee for the World Stem Cell Summit coming up in Palm Beach December 2012.

Excellence in Cell Based Assays

Excellent in cell based assays means lower research and development costs. There are two sides of the “cost coin”. On one side, if any of the raw materials (plates, cells, media, growth factors, markers, probes or detection, etc. are a weak link), the whole chain is destroyed and all time and material cost are wasted. On the other side, if culture conditions do not promote an environment enables in vivo like conditions, the data may prove to be unsupported in pre-clinical testing. This results in big costs in both opportunity and related expenses.

This is why Akron Biotech’s product and expertise are so important.  This is also why they could become important partners for Neuromics.  They have the ability to deliver a large cross section of the capabilities required for excellence in cell based assays. 

These capabilities include:

  • Best manufacturing practices (GMP) guarantee products will work as expected.
  • Delivery of tools and methods that support research from the bench to pre-clinical studies.
  • Product strategies that insure current and future fill known gaps in driving cell based assay excellence.

These includes:  media, growth factors, 2D/3-D culturing ECMS and Polyfibers, recombinant proteins and cryopreservatives.  Many fit hand in glove with my strategic offerings. I plan on continue to publishing update on new developments from Akron Biotech.

Inflammatory Macrophages in ALS Spinal Cord

In my many conversation with Neuro-disease researchers, I often learn of discoveries that beg to be shared. I have been collaborating with Dr. Milan Fiala to explore how our hN2 Primary Human Neurons could be best used to study the role of inflammatory cytokines in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This would build on the excellent research he and his team are conducting at UCLA.

He shared with me that these inflammatory cytokines could be the bad actors in ALS. Specifically, in vitro, superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD-1) stimulates expression of inflammatory cytokines, including IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α, through activation of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and caspase-1. Further, they have discovered The lipid mediator resolvin D1 (RvD1) inhibited IL-6 and TNF-α production in ALS macrophages with 1,100 times greater potency than its parent molecule docosahexaenoic acid. ALS peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) showed increased transcription of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines at baseline and after stimulation by aggregated wild-type SOD-1, and these cytokines were down regulated by RvD1. Thus the neurons are impacted by macrophages expressing inflammatory cytokines. RvD1 strongly inhibits in ALS macrophages and PBMCs cytokine transcription and production. Resolvins offer a new approach to suppression of inflammatory activation in ALS. To learn more see: Guanghao Liu, Milan Fiala, Mathew T. Mizwicki, James Sayre, Larry Magpantay, Avi Siani, Michelle Mahanian, Madhuri Chattopadhyay, Antonio La Cava, and Martina Wiedau-Pazos. Neuronal phagocytosis by inflammatory macrophages in ALS spinal cord: inhibition of inflammation by resolvin D1.
Am J Neurodegener Dis. 2012;1(1):60-74.

Images: Co localization of TNF-a- and IL-6- expressing macrophages with caspase-3-and the chemokine RANTES (CCL5) – stained neurons in ALS and control spinal cords. Frozen sections of ALS and control lumbar spinal cord were stained with anti-NeuN (red), anti-CD68 (green), anti-caspase-3 (magenta) or anti-RANTES (magenta), and DAPI (blue) (Immunofluorescence microscopy (20X)). The experiment was repeated with 2 other ALS spinal cords and 2 other control spinal cords and yielded comparable results.
Photomicrographs are shown in 2 patients (A, B, C, D) and 2 controls (E, F). (A) Co
localization (yellow) of TNF-a-positive (magenta) and (CD68-positive, green) macrophages with NeuN–positive (red) neurons; (B) Co localization (yellow) of IL-6-positive (magenta) and CD68-positive (green) macrophages with NeuN–positive (red) neurons; (C) Co localization of macrophages (CD68-positive, green) with apoptotic, caspase-3-positive (magenta) and non-apoptotic (caspase-3-negative (red)) neurons. Eight neurons are impacted by macrophages; 3 neurons are caspase-3-positive (arrows) and 5 neurons are caspase-3- negative (asterisk); (D) Co localization of macrophages (yellow) with RANTES-positive (magenta) and CD 68-positive (green) macrophages with NeuN-positive (red) neurons. (E&F) No macrophages (green) are detected in 3 control spinal cords. (G&H) The table shows that in three ALS spinal cords 19.2 +/−4.8% NeuN-positive (red) neurons co localize with TNF-a -positive (magenta) macrophages (green) and 18.5 +/− 4.9 % NeuN-positive (red) neurons co localize with IL-6-positive (magenta) macrophages (green), whereas in control spinal cords 0% neurons (red) co localize with macrophages (green).

I will keep you posted on progress.

Scripps Florida Scientists Awarded $3 Million to Develop New, More Effective Pain Treatments

We profiled Dr. Laura Bohn research in one of our news stories. We are excited to share the news.Dr. Laura Bohn

JUPITER, FL, February 29, 2012 – Scripps Florida scientists have been awarded $3.1 million by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, to study and develop several new compounds that could prove to be effective in controlling pain without the unwanted side effects common with opiate drugs, such as morphine, Oxycontin®, and Vicoden®.

Laura Bohn, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics and Neuroscience at Scripps Research, and Thomas Bannister, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and associate scientific director in the Translational Research Institute at Scripps Research, will serve as joint principal investigators for the new five-year study.

Their study will focus on four new classes of compounds that appear to differ fundamentally from opiates inthe side effects that they can produce.

“Once we more fully understand how these compounds work, we expect to optimize and develop them as novel drugs,”said Bohn. “We hope to produce potent pain relievers without the problems associated with current treatments.” Full article: http://www.scripps.edu/news/press/20120229bohn-bannister.html

We wish her great success in her research aimed at discovering improved solution for managing pain.

Gerry Shaw-Master of World Class Neuronal/Glial Markers

Build it and They will Come

Gerry and One of His Triumph's MCs
Gerry and One of His Triumph’s MCs

I am pleased to profile Dr. Gerry Shaw, a Professor at the University of Florida and also the Head of EnCor Biotechnology Inc.  His story is a guide for incubating and spinning out a successful biotech company (EnCor Biotechnology, Inc.) from a university research laboratory. It should provide an inspiration for fledgling entrepreneurs as the model required little capital investment and has enjoyed profitable growth.

The Backstory

Gerry’s major area of research interest can be summarized as the study of cellular changes resulting from central nervous system damage and disease states. These changes help neuroscience researchers understand the progression and hopefully discover root causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS. Understanding which proteins are involved in particular disease states also has the potential of identifying targets for therapies.

The story starts with Gerry’s Post Doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, in what was at the time West Germany. Here he joined the world renowned laboratory of Klaus Weber and Mary Osborn. This lab had pioneering several important techniques, notably SDS-PAGE for protein analysis and the use of antibodies in immunocytochemistry. Later, after Gerry left the same lab made key contributions leading to the routine use of RNAi in “knock down” of normal cellular proteins. The lab had developed antibodies to tag the subunit proteins of microtubules, microfilaments, intermediate filaments and other cellular proteins, and then used these antibodies to visualize the proteins in immunofluorescence microscopy and on western blots. This enabled researchers to look at changes in the cellular expression of these proteins in powerful new way. These methods have become vital tools for understanding normal cellular function and what happens when cells transition from healthy to diseased states. This lab was an ideal location for Gerry to learn how to make quality monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies. Good antibody reagents are vital for the correct interpretation of immunofluorescence microscopy and western blots, and he was soon supplying his reagents to friends, collaborators and other researchers all around the world. Success is value as antibodies that do not as work as expected waste research time and resources, while quality reagents soon become appreciated and may get to be standard lab reagents.

University of Florida

The University of Florida, in Gainesville imported his expertise when Gerry joined the institute in 1986. Here he continued to make antibodies to Neurofilaments or NFs and other Neuronal-Glial Markers. It’s hard to keep a good thing a secret and Gerry faced growing demand from all over for these reagents. This proved a drain both financially and in terms of time commitment, as well as a significant conflict of interest with his basic biomedical research program.

MAP2_Doering IHC Image: Co-culture of embryonic mouse hippocampal neurons and astrocytes. Primary embryonic hippocampal neurons at 7 days in vitro, were stained with Microtubule Associated Protein-2 (MAP, green) to enable the visualization of the dendritic arbors. These neurons were cultured on top of a monolayer of primary cortical astrocytes, stained with an antibody directed against

Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein (GFAP, red). The cell nuclei were visualized by staining with 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI, blue). BMC Image of the Month October 2010

As a result Gerry took his first entrepreneurial step by selling his most popular reagents in bulk initially to Chemicon (now Millipore-Merck). Like any new business venture, he did not really know what to expect. It should come as no surprise that the reagents sold like hot cakes and the check started rolling in. Other immunoreagent companies approached Gerry and soon he was supplying antibodies to pretty much every major biotechnology vendor.

ABC Biologicals to EnCor Biotechnology Inc.

Success breeds success and as sales increased over the 1990s, it was time to form an independent business and so ABC Biologicals Inc. was incorporated in 1999 initially to buy equipment and develop licensing agreements. Since Gerry had income from sales, he was in the unusual and enviable position of not needing grants, investors, loans or cash from any other source, and so could proceed with almost total independence. The company was renamed EnCor Biotechnology Inc. in 2002, and at the same time moved into the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, a lab dedicated to commercialization of intellectual property generated by the faculty of the University of Florida. The University of Florida is unusually experienced at this and is well known for launching Gatorade, Trusopt and many other products. After 4 years EnCor “graduated” from the Incubator and now occupies a facility in Gainesville. The company now has almost 100 products with many more under development. This is good news for the Neuroscience community.

The EnCor-Neuromics Connection

Neuromics provides EnCor Biotechnology reagents to researchers studying neuro-degeneration, neuro-regeneration, neuro-development, neural stem cells, mood disorders, brain injury and spinal cord injury. My customers have found EnCor’s reagents to be rock solid and versatile.

In addition, Gerry and his team have proved adept at culturing our E18 hippocampal neurons and ESC derived hN2TM primary neurons. This is a big plus as we can actually see how the cells and markers could resonate together for use in cell based assays.

Hippo_MAPT_DC1 Image: E18 hippocampal neurons stained with Tau (red) and Doublecortin (green). The two proteins overlap in the proximal dendrites (yellow) Axons (low doublecortin content) are red. Blue staining is the nuclear DNA.

Futures

I am excited by the glimpse of the future that Gerry shared. We can expect many new, novel and important markers in the coming months and years. In addition, he will be manufacturing various Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA). These kits have the potential to help clinicians diagnose the early onset of diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

For example, his company currently sells an ELISA kit for sensitive detection of Phosphorylated Neurofilament-H (pNF-H). Expression of this protein is up regulated in a variety of damage and disease states, and can be used to accurately quantify this up regulation. The kit can also detect pNF-H in the sera and spinal cord fluid (CSF) of animals with spinal cord and brain lesions. This protein is not normally found in sera or CSF, so its presence indicates recent axonal injury as a result of either damage or disease. This suggests pNF-H is a useful biomarker of neuronal and more specifically axonal injury or degeneration, a suggestion supported by a growing list of basic science publications on various animal models and patient types from Gerry’s research lab (e.g. Shaw et al. 2005, Lewis et al. 2008, Boylan et al. 2009, Lewis et al. 2010).

Given the capabilities of EnCor’s markers, the development of more kits is coming. There could be a day in the not distant future where they give clinicians tools to better diagnose and monitor serious neurodegenerative diseases, leading to better disease treatment and management.

I will keep you informed on Gerry’s and EnCor’s future developments.

Dr. Ivan Rich and HemoGenix

Stem Cells Testing Tools that enlighten Drug Discovery and Cell Therapy Researchers
I am pleased to profile Dr. Ivan Rich. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of HemoGenix and an internationally recognized leader in hematology.  I am timing this profile to coincide with Neuromics launch of HemoGenix’s first to market fully standardized, proven and cost effective  ATP-based, in vitro bioluminescence and high-throughput screening (HTS) cell based assay systems.

These assays represent best in class solutions for detecting and measuring cell viability, functionality, growth, proliferation and cytotoxicity of stem and progenitor cells for stem cell and basic research, cellular therapy, in vitro toxicity testing and veterinary applications.

Hemogenix_Pic

 ivan-rich

2000-Present- Hemogenix-CEO
and Chairman

1996-2000-Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital

 1995-Second Thesis in Experimental Hematology, University of Ulm

1981-1983-Post Doc University of Chicago

1973-1978-Ph.D. University of Ulm, Biology

 

Ivan’s journey leading to founding of HemoGenix provided him a unique blend of scientific, entrepreneurial and operational expertise.  These traits are the drivers that enable him to invent, successfully commercialize and continuously improve cell based assay systems. These systems meet a wide range of demanding requirements. These include, for example, meeting the requirement by Standards Organizations and Regulatory Agencies for “appropriate” and “validated” assays that can be used by cord blood banks and stem cell transplantation centers to determine whether a stem cell product has the necessary potency characteristics and can be released for transplantation into a patient…high standards indeed!

The Back Story-Hematology and Hemopoietic Stem Cells

Ivan received his PhD from the University of Ulm, in Germany in 1973 in Human Biology. He then completed a second thesis in 1995 in experimental hematology.  Our story starts here.  As a background we need to understand:  the hemopoietic stem cell compartment consists of cells which are responsible for maintaining the steady-state production of some two million red blood cells and two hundred thousand white blood cells every second of a person’s life!

Beginning in 1973, he worked extensively with “classic” colony-forming cell (CFC) assay.  At the same time, He also gained experience in culturing erythropoietic progenitor cells (BFU-E and CFU-E) under low oxygen tension. His group was the first to demonstrate that macrophages grown in vitro could respond to low oxygen tension by regulating erythropoietin production at a local level. His group also demonstrated the role of HOXB6 in erythropoietic development as well as the role of the Na/H exchanger in hematopoiesis. “Necessity being the mother of invention”, Ivan began developing these assays into miniaturized format.  Assays necessary for fully understanding the potential and associated risks of using of these cells for human therapies.

This opened the door for him to do a post doc with the late Dr. Eugene Goldwasser at the University of Chicago. Dr. Goldwasser was renowned for discovering the first partial amino acid sequence of erythropoietin (EPO). This discovery eventually led to the production of human recombinant EPO by Amgen and the development of first EPO related therapeutic (Epogen). It is used to treat anemia from kidney disease and certain cancers.

We now move to Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital in South Carolina where Ivan served as Director of Basic Research for Transplantation Medicine. From this research,  we learn that the most primitive stem cells have the greatest potential for proliferation and long-term reconstitution of the hemopoietic system, while the most mature stem cells have only short-term reconstitution potential. These primitive cells then become the most excellent candidates for future therapies. BUT how do we know the population of cells derived from cord blood or bone marrow contain the required population of potent and safe (phenotypically stable) primitive stem cells for effective therapies? We can ask the same questions for other stem cell populations that are candidates for therapies. These include mesenchymal stem cells, neural stem cells and others.

Introducing Quantitative, Accurate and Proven High Throughput (HTS) Stem Cell Assays

Ivan and HemoGenix began answering these questions in 2002 with help from National Cancer Insitute (NCI) SBIR grants. This led to the successful launch of the HALO® family of kits. These kits are based on Bioluminomics™ which is the science of using the cell’s energy source in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to provide us with a wealth of information. The production of ATP is an indicator of the cell’s cellular and mitochondrial integrity, which, in turn, is an indicator of its viability and cellular functionality. ATP also changes in proportion to cell number, proliferation status and potential, its cytotoxicity and even its apoptotic status.

HemoGenix continues to develop and evolve kits key to developing effective and safe stem cell related drugs and cell based therapies.

Practical Applications

Here are examples of the kits in action.

  • HemoGenix and Vitro Diagnostic-Via this partnership, LUMENESC kits for mesenchymal stem cells include high performance growth media for research, quality control or potency or cytotoxicity to the mesenchymal stem cell system
  • LumiSTEM™ for testing  hNP1™ Human Neural Progenitors Expansion Kit-enables  fast, accurate and multiplex detection system for hastening advances in drug safety and discovery as well as environmental toxicology. . LumiSTEM™[now LumiCYTE-HT]  kits are used for in vitro detection of liver toxicity, with an overall reduction in drug development cost for drug candidates
  • High Throughput (HTS) Screening of Multiple Compounds using HALO®-(to learn more see: TOXICOLOGICAL SCIENCES 87(2), 427–441 (2005) doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfi25). Eleven reference compounds from the Registry of Cytotoxicity (RC) and eight other compounds, including anticancer drugs, were studied over an 8- to 9-log dose range for their effects on seven cell populations from both human and mouse bone marrow simultaneously. The cell populations studied included a primitive (HPP-SP) and mature (CFC-GEMM) stem cell, three hematopoietic (BFU-E, GM-CFC, Mk-CFC) and two lymphopoietic (T-CFC, B-CFC) populations. The results reveal a five-point prediction paradigm for lympho-hematotoxicity.
HSC Toxicity Data

HSC Toxicity Data

Futures

The dawn is breaking for stem cells therapies. These cells are the reparative engines for damaged cells in our bodies. These therapies have the potential to alleviate the world’s most insidious, chronic and costly diseases. Tools that enable us to understand the true properties and potency of these cells lower the cost of discovering drugs and cell based therapies.

I look for more tools to spring from the vision of Dr. Ivan Rich that will play an ever increasing and important role in the world of basic stem cell research, stem cell based therapies and regenerative medicine. I plan to keep you updated on the evolution and capabilities of these inventions.

Harnessing the Power of Neural Stem Cells

I wanted to share an important presentation by Dr. Steve Stice. He is a featured researcher in “News Behind the Neuroscience News”.

“Does amplification of neural progenitor cells derived from embryonic stem cells solve problems of cell production and FDA safety standards?”
Steven L. Stice, PhD
Professor, GRA Eminent Scholar
Director of the Regenerative Bioscience Center at University of Georgia
CSO, Aruna Biomedical Inc.

Lectin Binding Profiles among Human Embryonic Stem Cells

I have featured  numerous posting of innovations by Dr. Steve Stice and our friends at Aruna Biomedical. Here I would like to share a publication by Steve and his team featuring a new slant on isolating eSC Derived hNP Neural Progenitors. This study also includes methods for sorting hESCs, hNP cells and hMP cells.

Mahesh C. Dodla, Amber Young, Alison Venable, Kowser Hasneen1, Raj R. Rao, David W. Machacek, Steven L. Stice. Differing Lectin Binding Profiles among Human Embryonic Stem Cells and Derivatives Aid in the Isolation of Neural Progenitor Cells. PLoS ONE 6(8): e23266. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023266.

Abstract: Identification of cell lineage specific glycans can help in understanding their role in maintenance, proliferation and differentiation. Furthermore, these glycans can serve as markers for isolation of homogenous populations of cells. Using a panel of eight biotinylated lectins, the glycan expression of hESCs, hESCs-derived human neural progenitors (hNP) cells, and hESCs-derived mesenchymal progenitor (hMP) cells was investigated. Our goal was to identify glycans that are unique for hNP cells and use the corresponding lectins for cell isolation. Flow cytometry and immunocytochemistry were used to determine expression and localization of glycans, respectively, in each cell type. These results show that the glycan expression changes upon differentiation of hESCs and is different for neural and mesenchymal lineage. For example, binding of PHA-L lectin is low in hESCs (14±4.4%) but significantly higher in differentiated hNP cells (99±0.4%) and hMP cells (90±3%). Three lectins: VVA, DBA and LTL have low binding in hESCs and hMP cells, but significantly higher binding in hNP cells. Finally, VVA lectin binding was used to isolate hNP cells from a mixed population of hESCs, hNP cells and hMP cells. This is the first report that compares glycan expression across these human stem cell lineages and identifies significant differences. Also, this is the first study that uses VVA lectin for isolation for human neural progenitor cells.

hNP1_STEM_CELL_MARKERS_IF_IHC

Figure 1. Defining the stem cell phenotype using immunocytochemistry and flow cytometry.Phase contrast image of hESCs (A), hNPs (B), and hMPs (C). hESCs express pluripotency markers: Oct 4 (D,GG, JJ), SSEA-4 (G), and Sox 2 (J,GG); lack expression of Nestin (M, JJ), CD 166 (P,DD), CD73 (DD), and CD105 (AA). hNPs have low expression of pluripotency markers: Oct 4 (E,KK), SSEA-4 (H); and mesenchymal markers CD 166 (Q,EE), CD73 (EE), and CD105 (BB). hNPs express neural markers: Sox 2 (J,HH) and Nestin (N,HH,KK). hMPs lack expression of pluripotency markers: Oct 4 (F,LL), SSEA-4 (I), and Sox 2 (L,II); however, hMPs express Nestin (O,II,LL), CD 166 (R,FF), CD73 (FF), CD90 (CC) and CD105 (CC). All the cells have been stained with the nuclear marker DAPI (blue) in panels D- P. Scale bar: 10 µm. In the dot plots, red dots indicate isotype control or secondary antibody only; black dots indicate the antigen staining. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023266.g001

 By comparing hESCs, hNP cells and hMP cells, we have identified glycan structures that are unique to hNP cells: GalNac end groups (VVA), α-linked N-acetylgalactosamine (DBA), and fucose moieties α-linked to GlcNAc (LTL). Future studies help in identifying the roles of these glycans in cell maintenance, proliferation and differentiation fate.

I will keep you posted on these future Studies.

Satish Medicetty-Platforms for MS Drug Discovery

In Search of Remyelination Therapies

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease with no known cure. It affects over 400,000 people in the US and over 2.5 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of non-traumatic neurological disability in North America.

It is a chronic and brutal disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. MS symptoms are due to the damage or loss of myelin sheath that surrounds, isolates and protects axons of brain and spinal cord. The results are often debilitating and afflict most sufferers in the prime of their lives. The annual costs to slow the disease and treat related
symptoms are in the billions of dollars and rising. There are currently no therapies to reverse damage of MS. At this point, there are only immune suppressive therapies that slow attack on the myelin sheath.

It is with hope and optimism that I present Dr. Satish Medicetty and his company, Renovo Neural Inc. (RNI) in this edition of the “News Behind the Neuroscience News”.

I became aware of Satish and his company in my search for Stem Cells that would broaden Neuromics ability to serve early phase Neuroscience Drug Discovery.

Satish Medicetty

Satish Medicetty

Apr 2010 – Present: President and Board Director Renovo Neural Inc.

June 2008 – Mar 2010: Director of Stem Cell Research and Lab Operations
NeoStem Inc

July 2005 – June 2008: Senior Scientist Athersys

2006 – 2008: MBA, Case Western University

2002 – 2005: PhD, Kansas State University

After my first conversation with him, I was impressed with the capabilities RNI offered.

RNI

The company, founded in 2008 with a$3 million grant from the State of Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission, is leveraging cutting edge research from Dr. Bruce Trapp’s lab at the Cleveland Clinic.

At the core, RNI offers pioneering and propriety assays that give Drug Discovery Companies the ability to screen small molecules and compounds that could be lead therapy candidates for MS and other myelin-related diseases. These screens use a type of stem cell called adult oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs).

The Power of OPCs

So what makes these OPCs an engine for finding cures for MS?  Inflammation associated with MS attacks destroys cells called oligodendrocytes that produce myelin. The only way to reverse this autoimmune related process is for the brain to produce healthy cells that can catalyze re-myelination. Enter OPCs.

OPCs are the raw material for processes the central nervous system uses to manufacture oligodendrocytes.  The brain’s inability to produce enough healthy cells to keep up with the destruction is a root cause of the disease. Understanding how to kick start and keep the oligodendrocyte factory running is a key to reversing this relentless destruction.

Delivering Value

RNI has the capabilities to the decrease time required and increase the odds for discovering potential MS therapies.  They have the raw material (OPCs) and the know how to encourage their transformation into myelinating cells. This expertise can be utilized can be used then to rapidly test new compounds both in vitro and in vivo.

In Vito Assays Example

In Vitro Assays Example

The features of their in vitro assays include:

  • Stringent protocols to generate relatively homogeneous (>85% pure) and consistent population of OPCs as a reliable starting material for HCS assays
  • Relatively high throughput primary screen to identify potential candidates that promote OPC proliferation and/or differentiation
  • Secondary screen to confirm and qualify compounds for further pharmacological testing
  • Positive and negative controls that demonstrate the utility of HCS assays to identify lead candidates that promote OPC proliferation and differentiation.

The features of their in vivo cuprizone assays include:

  • Stringent protocols to generate highly reproducible demyelination/remyelination cuprizone model
  • Cuprizone model recapitulates the in vivo process of demyelination and remyelination in the brain.
  • Cuprizone model provides consistent and accurate results for key regions of the brain that are affected in MS patients including both white and gray matter regions – corpus callosum, hippocampus and cortex.
  • Proof of concept studies demonstrate the utility of our in vivo remyelination assays to evaluate preclinical efficacy of potential remyelination therapies

The end goal is to discover therapies that repair neurons damaged by MS via remyelination and to get them in the hands of people that need them. I will keep you posted on their progress.

Featuring Dr. Richard Rogers

Obesity Energy, Thermogenesis and Appetite

Dr. Richard Rogers

Dr. Richard Rogers

 
Obesity and its evil twin, diabetes, are rapidly becoming our #1 health epidemic. Today 10% of all medical costs in the U.S. are dueto an overweight population, and this percentage is growing rapidly. Today, the breakdown is about $1500 per year in medical costs for obese versus normal weight individuals. This translates into more than $145 billion spent annually.
Given the size of the epidemic, a growing focus for my company is providing reagents to researchers who study bioprocesses involved in energy metabolism. This includes researchers studying what happens to energy expenditure when the “fuel tank” is full and also empty. Both states could give clues as to why we overeat.

In my routine follow up with researchers using our reagents, I started to get an appreciation on how these complex energy pathways are being unraveled and better understood. That appreciation forms the roots of this “News Behind the Neuroscience News” story. It is a story that has the hormones Leptin and TRH playing a starring role supported by hindbrain neuro/glial-circuitry and brown adipose tissue (BAT).

The Rogers Lab

I became aware of the Richard Rogers Lab in my follow up with Montina Van Meter checking on our  LepRb/OBRb antibody. She shared that it was giving them results better than most others they has used. She then gave me an overview of her research involved with  the control of feeding behavior and energy utilization including thermogenesis (“heat generation”) catalyzed in BAT.  Cool…this was a lab we wanted to make sure we served and served well.

Tina not only kept me informed on how our reagents were working, but also generously alerted to me publications referencing use of our reagents:
·        Maria J. Barnes, Richard C. Rogers, Montina J. Van Meter and Gerlinda E. Hermann. Co-localization of TRHR1 and LepRb
receptors on neurons in the hindbrain of the rat.
 doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2010.07.094…Included are excellent images of stained LepRb (OB-Rb)-(Dilution 1:500) and  GAD1-Dilution (2ug/ml) expressing neurons localized in loose clusters of cells in the DMN, NST, and the VLM…
·        Hung Hsuchou, Yi He, Abba J. Kastin, Hong Tu, Emily N. Markadakis, Richard C. Rogers, Paul B. Fossier, and Weihong Pan. Obesity induces functional astrocytic leptin receptors in hypothalamus. Brain, Mar 2009; doi:10.1093/brain/awp029…unique sequence of ObRb at its cytoplasmic tail (CH14104, Neuromics, Edina, MN, USA). This antibody was raised
against rat ObRb…

I found this research to be unique and intriguing. This led me to an interview with Dr. Rogers. Here is his backstory.

Beginnings

Dr. Rogers credits serendipity as a driving force in his interest in Neuroscience. It started with a bike ride and chance introduction with a ham radio operator when he was a youngster. This catalyzed his interest in electronics and circuitry.

This interest morphed to a passion for Neuroscience (circuits and signaling). He entered the first college program devoted to Neuroscience studies at UCLA.  He received his Ph. D. in 1979. His post-doc focused on digestive regulation. Here, he  investigated the neural circuitry involved in the normal control of gastric function.

Evolutions

In collaboration with his wife Dr. Gerlinda Hermann, his work evolved to solving the mystery of why we don’t eat (abnormal gastric function). What causes gastro-intestinal shutdown?  The breakthrough was their ability to show cross-talk between the immune system and nervous system. This research is a foundation for the discovery of therapies for sufferers of appetite shut down cause by cancer therapies and certain immune related pathologies.

The main culprit is TNF-α. The blood level of this peptide is elevated as a consequence of immune activation caused by infection, cancer, radiation exposure and chronic autoimmune disease. The breakthrough was showing that  TNF-α receptors are on neurons in the brainstem that control gastric functions, including emesis.  Neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NST) respond to TNF-α greatly increasing the sensitivity of gastric vagal control circuitry.  This causes emptying of the gut to dramatically slow,l leading to nausea, vomiting and cessation of appetite.

Currently, they are delving into the complexities of  TNF-α signaling processes. This includes the role of astrocytes and glia.

See: Gerlinda E Hermann and Richard C Rogers.  TNF activates astrocytes and catecholaminergic neurons in the solitary nucleus: implications for autonomic control. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2009.03.059.

 Energy,Obesity and Thermogenesis-Active Astrocytes

Recently, the lab took another road less traveled. Dr. Gerlinda Hermann discovered interesting aspects of leptin and thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) signaling.  This research looks at signaling in thermogenesis and feeding behavior. A most interesting aspect includes conclusions concerning the role of astrocytes.  Their colleague Dr. Weihong Pan  showed that adult obese mice, (2 months after being placed on a high-fat diet) showed a striking increase of leptin receptor (+) astrocytes, most prominent in the dorsomedial hypothalamus and arcuate nucleus. Agouti viable yellow mice with their adult-onset obesity showed similar changes, but the increase of leptin receptor (+) astrocytes was barely seen in ob/ob or db/db mice with their early-onset obesity and defective leptin systems. The results indicate that metabolic changes in obese mice can rapidly alter leptin receptor expression and astrocytic activity, and that leptin receptor is responsible for leptin-induced calcium signalling in astrocytes. This novel and clinically relevant finding opens new avenues in astrocyte biology (doi: 10.1093/brain/awp029).

Non-shivering thermogenesis usually occurs in BAT. It uncouples the ATP energy producing process by generating heat rather than driving the conversion of ADP to ATP. This creates an ingenious way to untangle complex processes related to Leptin signaling. What happens when there is sufficient energy for the thermogenic process? Conversely, what happens when there is insufficient energy?

 Leptin and TRH act synergistically in the hindbrain to drive thermogenesis. However, in a starving condition there is a subsequent drop in Leptin and thermogenesis. Behind these simple facts are complex processes that occur in the hindbrain. The team is providing important insights including location of events and relevant signaling molecules. (doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2010.07.094).

The Future-Caged Compounds and Live Cell Signaling

Caged compounds are bioactive molecules attached to photolabile groups, that release the active component on contact with photons of the right energy level – the process of photolysis. Photolysis is now widely applied in biology to induce neurotransmitter and otherm ligand-receptor interactions in conditions that are otherwise subject to poor diffusional access and receptor desensitization, as well as for labile ligands.

This novel technology affords Dr. Rogers and his team the capability do live cell imaging of calcium signaling. From these they will help us gain a deeper understanding of what is happing and where. Specifically, we will more exactly learn the role that astrocytes and glia play in controlling the role of   Leptin and related signaling molecules in controlling energy, metabolism and feeding behavior. This could lead to important target for future therapies.