Nav: Home

Lou Gehrig's disease: From patient stem cells to potential treatment strategy in one study

October 25, 2013

LOS ANGELES (Oct. 25, 2013) - Although the technology has existed for just a few years, scientists increasingly use "disease in a dish" models to study genetic, molecular and cellular defects. But a team of doctors and scientists led by researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute went further in a study of Lou Gehrig's disease, a fatal disorder that attacks muscle-controlling nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

After using an innovative stem cell technique to create neurons in a lab dish from skin scrapings of patients who have the disorder, the researchers inserted molecules made of small stretches of genetic material, blocking the damaging effects of a defective gene and, in the process, providing "proof of concept" for a new therapeutic strategy - an important step in moving research findings into clinical trials.

The study, published Oct. 23 in Science Translational Medicine, is believed to be one of the first in which a specific form of Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was replicated in a dish, analyzed and "treated," suggesting a potential future therapy all in a single study.

"In a sense, this represents the full spectrum of what we are trying to accomplish with patient-based stem cell modeling. It gives researchers the opportunity to conduct extensive studies of a disease's genetic and molecular makeup and develop potential treatments in the laboratory before translating them into patient trials," said Robert H. Baloh, MD, PhD, director of Cedars-Sinai's Neuromuscular Division in the Department of Neurology and director of the multidisciplinary ALS Program. He is the lead researcher and the article's senior author.

Laboratory models of diseases have been made possible by a recently invented process using induced pluripotent stem cells - cells derived from a patient's own skin samples and "sent back in time" through genetic manipulation to an embryonic state. From there, they can be made into any cell of the human body.

The cells used in the study were produced by the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Core Facility of Cedars-Sinai's Regenerative Medicine Institute. Dhruv Sareen, PhD, director of the iPSC facility and a faculty research scientist with the Department of Biomedical Sciences, is the article's first author and one of several institute researchers who participated in the study.

"In these studies, we turned skin cells of patients who have ALS into motor neurons that retained the genetic defects of the disease," Baloh said. "We focused on a gene, C9ORF72, that two years ago was found to be the most common cause of familial ALS and frontotemporal lobar degeneration, and even causes some cases of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. What we needed to know, however, was how the defect triggered the disease so we could find a way to treat it."

Frontotemporal lobar degeneration is a brain disorder that typically leads to dementia and sometimes occurs in tandem with ALS.

The researchers found that the genetic defect of C9ORF72 may cause disease because it changes the structure of RNA coming from the gene, creating an abnormal buildup of a repeated set of nucleotides, the basic components of RNA.

"We think this buildup of thousands of copies of the repeated sequence GGGGCC in the nucleus of patients' cells may become "toxic" by altering the normal behavior of other genes in motor neurons," Baloh said. "Because our studies supported the toxic RNA mechanism theory, we used two small segments of genetic material called antisense oligonucleotides - ASOs - to block the buildup and degrade the toxic RNA. One ASO knocked down overall C9ORF72 levels. The other knocked down the toxic RNA coming from the gene without suppressing overall gene expression levels. The absence of such potentially toxic RNA, and no evidence of detrimental effect on the motor neurons, provides a strong basis for using this strategy to treat patients suffering from these diseases."

Researchers from another institution recently led a phase one trial of a similar ASO strategy to treat ALS caused by a different genetic mutation and reportedly uncovered no safety issues.

Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute and one of the article's authors, has studied ALS for more than a decade. "ALS may be the cruelest, most severe neurological disease, but I believe the stem cell approach used in this collaborative effort holds the key to unlocking the mysteries of this and other devastating disorders. Within the Regenerative Medicine Institute, we are exploring several other stem cell-based strategies in search of treatments and cures," he said, adding that ALS affects 30,000 to 50,000 people in the U.S., but unlike other neurodegenerative diseases, it is almost always fatal, usually within three to five years.

Svendsen recently received a $17.8 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In collaboration with Baloh and the ALS clinical team at Cedars-Sinai, this study will support a novel stem cell and growth factor therapy for ALS.

-end-

Researchers from UCLA; the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.; the University of California, San Diego; Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.; and Isis Pharmaceuticals contributed to the C9ORF72 study.

The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants NS055980, NS069669, NIH-U24NS07837; and California Institute of Regenerative Medicine grant RT2-02040. Baloh holds a Career Award for Medical Scientists from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Analytical work was partially supported by the UCLA Muscular Dystrophy Core Center funded by the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders (P30 AR057230) within the Center for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at UCLA.

Citation:Science Translational Medicine, "Targeting RNA foci reduces pathology in iPSC-derived motor neurons from C9ORF72 repeat patients."

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Interferon-beta producing stem cell-derived immune cell therapy on liver cancer
Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell-derived myeloid cells (iPS-ML) that produce the anti-tumor protein interferon-beta (IFN-beta) have been produced and analyzed by researchers from Kumamoto University, Japan.
Scientists aim to create the world's largest sickle cell disease stem cell library
Scientists at the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine are creating an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based research library that opens the door to invaluable sickle cell disease research and novel therapy development.
Designer switches of cell fate could streamline stem cell biology
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a novel strategy to reprogram cells from one type to another in a more efficient and less biased manner than previous methods.
Allen Institute for cell science releases gene edited human stem cell lines
The Allen Institute for Cell Science has released the Allen Cell Collection: the first publicly available collection of gene edited, fluorescently tagged human induced pluripotent stem cells that target key cellular structures with unprecedented clarity.
Feng Zhang receives 2016 New York Stem Cell Foundation -- Robertson Stem Cell Prize
The New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) announced today that Feng Zhang, Ph.D., is the 2016 recipient of the NYSCF -- Robertson Stem Cell Prize for his pioneering advances to edit human and plant genomes using CRISPR-Cas9.
Scientists take aging cardiac stem cells out of semiretirement to improve stem cell therapy
With age, the chromosomes of our cardiac stem cells compress as they move into a state of safe, semiretirement.
Stem cell scientists discover genetic switch to increase supply of stem cells from cord blood
International stem cell scientists, co-led in Canada by Dr. John Dick and in the Netherlands by Dr.
More of a good thing is not always better -- and certainly not if you are a stem cell
Stem cell research led by the Babraham Institute has uncovered key new knowledge about how placental stem cells switch between maintaining a stem cell identity to setting off down the route to becoming specialized cell types.
A snapshot of stem cell expression
Research from the Wellcome Genome Campus demonstrates the power of single-cell genomics: Study reveals new genes involved in pluripotency, new subpopulations of cells and new methods to find meaning in the data.

Best Science Podcasts 2017

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2017. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.

Now Playing: Radiolab

Truth Trolls
Today, a third story of folks relentlessly searching for the truth. But this time, the truth seekers are an unlikely bunch... internet trolls.


Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking School
For most of modern history, humans have placed smaller humans in institutions called schools. But what parts of this model still work? And what must change? This hour, TED speakers rethink education.TED speakers include teacher Tyler DeWitt, social entrepreneur Sal Khan, international education expert Andreas Schleicher, and educator Linda Cliatt-Wayman.