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.

eSC Derived hNP1 Neural Progenitors Astrocytic Differentiation

Protocol for Driving hNP1TM Human Neural Progenitors to Astrocytes

There is a great demand for an easy way to generate human astrocytes in culture. I am pleased to present a protocol for differentiating our hNP1 Cells to Astrocytes. This comes from my friend Dr. Steve Stice and his team at ArunA Biomedical and University of Georgia: Majumder A, Dhara SK, Swetenburg R, Mithani M, Cao K, Medrzycki M, Fan Y, Stice SL. Inhibition of DNA methyltransferases and histone deacetylases induces astrocytic differentiation of neural progenitors. Stem Cell Res. 2013 Jul;11(1):574-86. doi: 10.1016/j.scr.2013.03.003. Epub 2013 Apr 2.

These enriched non-transformed human astrocyte progenitors will provide a critical cell source to further our understanding of how astrocytes play a pivotal role in neural function and development. Human neural progenitors derived from pluripotent embryonic stem cells and propagated in adherent serum-free cultures provide a fate restricted renewable source for quick production of neural cells; however, such cells are highly refractive to astrocytogenesis and show a strong neurogenic bias, similar to neural progenitors from the early embryonic central nervous system (CNS). We found that several astrocytic genes are hypermethylated in such progenitors potentially preventing generation of astrocytes and leading to the proneuronal fate of these progenitors. However, epigenetic modification by Azacytidine (Aza-C) and Trichostatin A (TSA), with concomitant signaling from BMP2 and LIF in neural progenitor cultures shifts this bias, leading to expression of astrocytic markers as early as 5days of differentiation, with near complete suppression of neuronal differentiation.


Images: Morphology and gene expression after 15 and 30 days of differentiation of cells with astrocytic treatment. Bright field images of hNP cells differentiated (A) with or (B) without astrocytic treatment. A and B compare morphology of cultured cells in treated vs. untreated differentiation at 15 days. Treated and untreated cells were cryopreserved at d6 and subsequently thawed and cultured for an additional 9 days. Flow cytometry analysis to determine percent of GFAP+ and S100B+ cells at d15 of differentiation. Data is presented as histograms for (C) GFAP and (D) S100B with corresponding immunoreactive cells in insets from a parallel culture. Immunocytochemistry detects expression of (E) GFAP with S100B (inset showing distinct staining for both markers), (F) GFAP with GLAST, and (G) GFAP with ALDH1L1 at d30 of differentiation.

The Protocol:  For astrocytic differentiation of hNP cells, neuronal differentiation media were supplemented with BMP2 (20 ng/mL) and combinations of Aza-C and TSA; Aza-C (500 nM), TSA (100 nM) and BMP2 (20 ng/mL) for 2 days, with one complete media change in between, followed by differentiation media supplemented with BMP2 but not with Aza-C or TSA. Cells were harvested prior to analysis at 5, 15 or 30 days of treatment or for cryopreservation to d6 or d10 of differentiation. For cryopreservation, cells were
dissociated with Accutase™ and frozen in differentiation media containing 10% DMSO. Viability was assessed at 30 days in Aza-C and TSA treated cultures by trypan blue exclusion, and datawas acquired using a Cellometer Auto T4® (Nexcelom Biosciences).

I will keep you updated on new differentiation protocols for our potent, pure and widely used hNP1 Human Neural Progenitors to new phenotypes.

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.

Neuromics and Vitro Biopharma Partner to offer Human Chondrocytes

More good news from our partnership!

Vitro Biopharma Launches Products for Drug Development & Advancement of Joint Regeneration Technology-GOLDEN, Colo., Oct. 9, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Vitro Diagnostics, Inc. (OTCQB: VODG), dba Vitro Biopharma, announced the launch of a series of products for use in the development of advanced treatment of injury and diseases of joints. The new products are chondrocytes derived from human adult stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These cells produce collagen and are critical to proper joint function. Joint disease and injury often involve defects in collagen production and/or damage to chondrocytes due to inflammation, disease or injury. The new products include native and fluorescent labeled MSC-derived human chondrocytes together with SPIO-labeled chondrocytes. The later cells are labeled with super paramagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) and may be used for in-vivo imaging of chondrocytes using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) a common clinical imaging procedure. The availability of native and multiply-labeled chondrocytes provides customers with numerous options to conduct in-vitro high throughput screening cell assays and to coordinate these studies with in-vivo studies.

Images: Chondrocyte Cultures

Our plans call for the addition of more types of primary cells as well as cells that can be tracked in vivo by MRI. I will keep you posted on these developments. 

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.

Dr. Jim Musick-Making MSCs Work

Harnessing the Power of CellsTM

Dr. Jim Musick

Dr. Jim Musick

Dr. Jim Musick and his company, Vitro Biopharma, give Basic and Drug Discovery Researchers the ability to harness the power of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells (hMSCs). This power is essential for blazing new trails in the stem cell research and regenerative medicine frontier.

I am pleased to welcome Jim as a partner in providing my company the expertise and knowledge highlighted in this profile. Together, we give our customers, colleagues and friends the ability to easily culture, grow, differentiate and maintain large stocks on hMSCs.

Background

Jim received his PhD from Northwestern University in 1975 and then joined the staff of University of Utah where he specialized in the study of Neuroscience and synaptic transmission. He joined UltraPure Laboratories in 1983.

At UltraPure, he learned the art and science of commercializing biologicals. There he helped develop procedures for the commercial production of purified human pituitary hormones including, prolactin, growth hormone and TSH. This included developing QA/QC procedures to support commercial distribution of these products.

He joined Vitro Diagnostics in 1988 and directed all operations involved in the establishment of a diagnostic product line that included about 30 different purified antigen products.  His direct responsibilities included research & development, manufacturing, intellectual property development and maintenance, marketing and sales.  He was also responsible for the development & initial commercialization of the fertility drug VITROPIN™ as well as the cell immortalization program of the Company.  He is an inventor or co-inventor of all issued and pending patents owned by the Company.

In 1998 he also completed an Executive Program at JJ Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University in Managing New Product Development.

In 2000, he orchestrated the sale of the antigen manufacturing division to Aspen Biopharma (Nasdaq, APPY) while retaining IP related to use of FSH as a fertility drug and to cell line generation technology.

He has the spirit of a polished scientist/entrepreneur with strong operational and process expertise.

Harnessing the Power of hMSCs

As President and CEO of Vito Biopharma, Jim leverages his expertise and experience to manufacture Cord Blood Derived hMSCs. The stem cell revolution demands large stocks of cells of the highest quality. Meeting the demand is the key to the development of stem cell related therapies. Vitro Biopharma has the capabilities to delivery.

It is all about starting with vials of potent and pure hMSCs. From there, the customer can grow and differentiate large stocks and be confident in the quality because Jim’s company has the processes in place to insure this. The cell lines are well-characterized with regard to species authentication using sensitive PCR methods to quantify non-conserved genes including COX1, Cytochrome B and actin.  Vitro Biopharma also utilizes karyotyping to authenticate its  cell lines.  Adventitious agents are also tested negative by sensitive PCR methods including known viral contaminants and mycoplasma.  Performance is assured by rigorous testing of viability, growth rate and differentiation capacity for formation of chondrocytes, adipocytes and osteoblasts.  Finally these cells are characterized with regard to phenotypic cluster designation antigens.

Current Products

Native and fluorescent-labeled human MSCs including native and fluorescein/rhodamine-labeled MSC-derived chondrocytes and osteocytes along with MSC-GroTM  growth and differentiation media. MSC-Gro™ media is provided in low-serum, humanized and serum-free formulations for both growth and differentiation.  Humanized serum-free media may be supplemented with allogeneic or autologous serum for direct comparisons of growth and differentiation under these conditions.  Powdered MSC-Gro™ formulations are also provided.  Vitro Biopharma’s human MSCss have the capabilities to be expanded through at least 10 passages at rapid growth rates and can be further expanded to 16 passages (~50 population doublings) at slower growth rates.

Human MSC-derived Osteoblasts stained with Alizarin red at 100 x.

Image: Human MSC-derived Osteoblasts stained with Alizarin red at 100 x.

Vitro Biopharma has recently launched a new and revised website complete with convenient online ordering and detailed product technical information (www.vitrobiopharma.com).

Futures

In our interview, Jim gave blinding glimpses of the future especially with regard to new products to extend Vitro Biopharma’s offering of clinical tools to fully explore the ever-expanding therapeutic applications of MSCs. I am excited about the potential. I will keep you posted as new products are commercialized.

Mesenchymal Differentiation Pathways

I will soon be profiling Dr. Jim Musick of Vitro Biopharma.  He manufacturers and provides us a wealth of expertise on our Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells (hMSCs) and MSCGro™ Mesenchymal Stem Cell Media.  As the demand for these grow, we are receiving a variety of questions on differentiation. Specifically, researchers desire to drive these cells to specific progenitor and cell phenotypes like Osteocytes, Adipocytes and Chondroytes.

I would like to share a pathway map that gives a snapshot of these pathways:

Regenerative Biology of the Spine and Spinal Cord. Edited by: Rahul Jandial, Mike Y. Chen, Bihong T. Chen and Joseph Ciacci. ISBN: 978-1-4614-4089-5. Publication date: May 25, 2012. Series: Special Books

I will continue to post information that will enable the researchers to harness the power of Mesenchymal Stem Cells.

Jim Musick and Vitro Biopharma

Coming Soon

Neuromics recently added key products from Dr. Jim Musick and our friends @ Vitro Biopharma. These include potent umbilical cord derived human mesenchymal stem cells and MSCGroTM (best of breed growth and differentiation media). These cells are capable of many passages enabling researchers to build large stocks.

MSCs_MSCGro

We will be posting Jim’s profile in several weeks.

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.