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Gates Institute News and Stories

Regenerative Medicine

Research    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy    Organ donation

From Organ Donor to Clinical Research Expert

From an early age, Cheri Adams, program director of regulatory strategy at the Gates Institute, knew she would pursue a career in medicine. But it was her experience as an organ donor that led her to a career in clinical research.

Author Mary Guiden | Publish Date April 02, 2024
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Pediatric Cancer    Blood Cancer    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Gates Biomanufacturing Facility Deploys CAR T-Cell Process Improvement

Since receiving FDA approval in 2017, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy has shown remarkable success in treating patients with certain blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. A complex biomanufacturing process is required to produce the therapy, which is performed for each individual patient. The process begins with apheresis, generating a leukopak containing the patient’s white blood cells. From there, T cells are isolated, genetically engineered to create CAR proteins that enable T cells to attack cancer cells, and multiplied in a laboratory. They are then reintroduced to the patient.

Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date December 14, 2023
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Research    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Gene Therapy Protocol Could Offer New Treatment for Skin-blistering Diseases

Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) is a skin-blistering disease that can be devastating for those with severe forms of the condition. Research is underway to grow genetically corrected skin by Gates Institute investigators Ganna Bilousova, PhD, and Igor Kogut, PhD, associate professors of dermatology at University of Colorado School of Medicine, in collaboration with Dennis Roop, PhD, professor of dermatology and associate director of the Gates Institute. Their work could lead to effective therapies for EB as well as other diseases.

Author Carie Behounek | Publish Date October 27, 2023
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Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Technology Transfer: The Key to Moving Scientific Discoveries Forward

At the surface, technology transfer is exactly what it sounds like; the transfer of technology from one entity to another. When working with your friendly neighborhood cGMP facility (the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility, or GBF), that simple phrase, technology transfer, should take on a whole new meaning.

Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date September 26, 2023
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Research    rare disease    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy    Gates Summer Internship Program

Student With Rare Genetic Condition Searches for a Cure at Gates Institute

Few college seniors can say they are working in a world-renowned lab to develop therapies for a genetic disorder that plagues 1 in 5,000 people worldwide.

Author Carie Behounek | Publish Date July 28, 2023
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Clinical Trials    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Executive Director Brings Start-up Experience, Biologics Expertise To GBF Leadership Role

Like many start-ups, the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility’s path to becoming sustainable has been full of twists and turns. The facility, known internally as the GBF, was launched in 2015 with no customers and no jobs in the pipeline, but many capital needs. The visionaries at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Gates Frontiers Fund saw biomanufacturing capabilities as being key to the success of the nascent Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine, and took a leap of faith.

Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date June 12, 2023
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Research    Faculty    Clinical Trials    Giving    Dermatology    rare disease    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Cracking the Code for Once 'Incurable' Diseases

When Dennis Roop, PhD, joined the University of Colorado School of Medicine to lead the Gates Program for Stem Cell Research in 2007, the first postdoc he recruited was Ganna (Anya) Bilousova, PhD, a Ukrainian researcher who had recently completed graduate training in biochemistry at CU.

Author Carie Behounek | Publish Date April 21, 2023
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Research    Dermatology    rare disease    Regenerative Medicine

CU Anschutz Scientists Awarded $3.8 Million DoD Grant to Manufacture Stem Cell Therapies

Scientists from the  Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine are part of a consortium awarded $3.8 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to move discoveries in stem cell-created skin grafts into the manufacturing stage, bringing further hope to victims of debilitating inherited skin diseases. 

The major grant for the Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) iPS Cell Consortium, which includes research teams from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Stanford University School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center, will move production of stem cells into the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility at CU Anschutz.

Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date April 12, 2018
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Research    Regenerative Medicine

Seven-year study pays off with ‘most detailed’ picture of head and neck cancer stem cells to date

AURORA, Colo. (Sept. 19, 2016) – Cancer stem cells resist therapy and are a major cause of relapse, long after the bulk of a tumor has been killed. A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute provides the most comprehensive picture to date of head and neck cancer stem cells, identifying genetic pathways that cancer stem cells hijack to promote tumor growth and visualizing the process of “asymmetric division” that allows a stem cell to create tumor tissue cells while retaining its own stem-like profile. The study is the result of seven years of research and innovation, including the development of novel techniques that allowed researchers to identify, harvest and grow these elusive stem cells into populations large enough to study. This major body of work provides specific targets for the development of new cancer therapeutics.

“We wanted to determine the relationships between key genetic alterations and how head and neck cancer stem cells harness those alterations to drive initiation and growth,” says CU Cancer Center investigator Antonio Jimeno, MD, PhD, the Daniel and Janet Mordecai endowed professor for cancer stem cell research, director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Research Program, and the paper’s senior author. The current project was performed in collaboration with the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine of which Dr. Jimeno is a faculty member. Jimeno started his work with cancer stem cells as a post-doc at Johns Hopkins University, but as he explains, “I focused on head and neck cancer stem cells because there has been an increase in head and neck cancer incidence of about fifty percent over the past ten years in the U.S. and we need to better understand what is at the root of this disease.”

Previously, a major challenge in characterizing cancer stem cells has been gathering a cell population large enough to study.

“There is a lot of ‘noise’ in cells and you need a lot of them because with only a few cells, it’s impossible to tell which of these genetic differences are meaningful features of cancer stem cells and which are just genetic noise,” says first author Stephen Keysar, PhD, research assistant professor in the Jimeno lab.

To solve this problem, the group first gathered tumor samples from a larger number of head and neck cancer patients – 10 patients in all – more than in any previous study. These samples represented both tumors associated with alcohol and tobacco use and tumors caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).

“It is important to always remember that we were able to make a difference thanks to the generosity of our patients, who enabled us to work with representative cancer models,” Jimeno says.

These tumors were then grown in mice. Subsequently, the group undertook the painstaking process of isolating enough cells for genetic studies and one-by-one transplanting these patient-derived tumor samples onto new mice to study how cancer stem cells initiate tumor growth.

“Sometimes it took a year just to get enough cells to study,” Keysar says.

“Antonio is a great example of perseverance,” says Dennis Roop, PhD, director of the Gates Center and also an investigator at the CU Cancer Center and the individual whom Jimeno credits with ‘much of the philosophy behind this work.’ “Antonio was submitting all these grants, and the reviewers were saying, ‘There’s no way you can do this; there’s no way you’ll get enough cells to characterize.’ He simply found ways to prove them wrong.”

This included leveraging private research funding, primarily from the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine, the Daniel and Janet Mordecai Foundation and the Peter and Rhondda Grant Fund.

“Private funding allowed Antonio to do the groundwork and develop the techniques that eventually made his proposals to the NIH so compelling that he was able to get support. In the case of those of us who are driven to do what we do, you just find a way to get these things accomplished. This is a great example of how bridge funding from the private sector can move research forward,” Roop says.

Here is what the group found:

First, head and neck cancer stem cells are, in fact, distinct from the rapidly dividing cells that form the bulk of tumors, and there is little difference between cancer stem cells in HPV- and HPV+ cancers. Both are marked by CD44 expression and aldehyde activity, and both use the key pathway PI3K to drive their survival, growth and resistance to anti-cancer therapies. The group found that the PI3K pathway, which is the most common alteration in head and neck cancer, then deploys SOX2, a transcription factor, to activate programs that modulate ‘stemness’ within the cell’s nucleus. For example, SOX2 was found to control aldehyde activity, which is a common cancer stem cell marker and a well-known driver of cancer stem-cell-mediated tumor growth.

“In normal cells, PI3K is used as a sensor for energy,” Jimeno explains. “For a cancer cell to act cancerous, it needs metabolic flexibility – it needs to be able to over-use energy – and so this ‘energy sensor’ is a pathway it wants to hijack. After chemo, PI3K helps the cell shut down and weather the storm. Then when the chemo is gone, PI3K helps cancer stem cells start back up again.”

Chemotherapies kill rapidly-dividing cells. PI3K shuts down a cancer stem cell’s metabolism, placing the cell in a dormant state. This gives cancer stem cells the ability to evade the trap of chemotherapy.

So what happens when you remove this ability? When the group eliminated SOX2 in mouse models of head and neck cancer, tumors became sensitive to therapies that previously had failed. But when the group amplified SOX2, tumors became even more resistant.

“This molecular thread from PI3K to SOX2 to aldehyde was responsible for all the features that define cancer stem cells,” Keysar says. Further, “Since SOX2-expressing cells fully behave like cancer stem cells, we now have a new laboratory tool to study cancer stem cell biology and therapeutics.”

The work also allowed the group to witness an event of the stem cell cycle that had, at best, been only partially characterized in head and neck cancer.

“It was like the snow leopard of the Himalayas,” Jimeno says. “We knew it existed because of the tracks, but no one had taken a picture of it – that is, until someone patiently perched on a frozen ridge for two years with a camera. We did just that.”

The event Jimeno refers to is “asymmetric division” of cancer stem cells. When a normal cell divides, it creates two identical copies of itself. However, if stem cells divided symmetrically, it would result in two stem cells but no differentiated cells, or two differentiated cells with the loss of the original stem cell. In either case, symmetrically dividing stem cells would not be able to promote tumor growth while also retaining their stemness.

The group was able to document that when cancer stem cells divide, “they don’t divide into two of the same,” Jimeno says. “One cell retains a stem profile, and the other goes a step beyond into differentiation.”

Overall, this seven-year line of inquiry offered three major advances:  it characterized head and neck cancer stem cells; it documented asymmetric division in head and neck cancer stem cells; and it identified genetic mechanisms that allow these cancer stem cells to grow and resist therapy. Importantly, identifying these genetic mechanisms of resistance may also help researchers and doctors overcome it.
“SOX2 and aldehyde inhibitors are now under exploration, and we’ve also done trials of early PI3K inhibitors here at CU Cancer Center,” Jimeno says.

“This has been an excellent example of team science,” Roop says. “You have Antonio – a brilliant young clinician-scientist – leading a group that includes basic scientists, pathologists, bio-informaticians and statisticians, and their expertise can combine to attack a problem in a way that no individual would be able to do on their own. This work will provide the basis for the development of new therapeutic strategies.”

About the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine 

The Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine was established in 2006 with a gift in memory of Denver industrialist and philanthropist, Charles C. Gates, who was captivated by the hope and benefit stem cell research promised for so many people in the world.  The Gates Center aspires to honor what he envisioned—by doing everything possible to support the collaboration between basic scientific researchers and clinical faculty to transition scientific breakthroughs into clinical practice as quickly as possible.  

Led by Founding Director Dennis Roop, PhD, the Gates Center is a multi-institutional consortium headquartered on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus – the only comprehensive academic health sciences center in Colorado, the largest academic health center in the Rocky Mountain region, and one of the newest education, research and patient care facilities in the world.  Operating as the only comprehensive Stem Cell Center within a 500-mile radius, the Gates Center shares its services and resources with an ever-enlarging membership of researchers and clinicians from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and CU Boulder campus, Colorado School of Mines, National Jewish Health and private industry. This collaboration is designed to draw on the widest possible array of scientific exploration relevant to stem cell technology focused on the delivery of innovative therapies in Colorado and beyond.

Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date September 19, 2016
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Research    Regenerative Medicine

CU Scientists’ Discovery Could Lead to New Cancer Treatment

AURORA, Colo. (Sept. 2, 2014) – A team of scientists from the University of Colorado School of Medicine has reported the breakthrough discovery of a process to expand production of stem cells used to treat cancer patients. These findings could have implications that extend beyond cancer, including treatments for inborn immunodeficiency and metabolic conditions and autoimmune diseases.

Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date September 02, 2014
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Gates Institute In the News

The Denver Post

CU studying use of patients’ own reprogrammed cells to attack cancer as alternative to more chemo

news outletThe Denver Post
Publish DateMarch 14, 2024

A study at University of Colorado’s Gates Institute on the Anschutz Medical Campus is looking at CAR-T in adult patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, whose first round of chemotherapy either failed or gave a disappointing response that suggests it won’t work for long, executive director Dr. Terry Fry said. (The institute is named for rubber manufacturer Charles C. Gates.)

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UC Davis News

UC Davis Graduating Student Poised to Help Those With Rare Condition

news outletUC Davis News
Publish DateDecember 12, 2023

Encouraged by his care team at the Colorado hospital to apply for an internship at the Gates Institute research lab, Mann spent this summer surrounded by researchers helping develop novel therapeutics for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). He worked on an experiment that used cells from EDS patients to grow skin samples for study. The lab is investigating the use of exosomes — secreted by most cells and present in tissues and body fluids — as a vehicle for therapeutic intervention.

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Colorado Bioscience Association

Building a Life Sciences Pipeline: Cell and Gene Therapy Momentum

news outletColorado Bioscience Association
Publish DateMarch 06, 2023

When you talk to Terry Fry, M.D., about why the Gates Institute is one of the best locations in the country to work in cellular and gene therapy, he has a lot of insight. As the executive director of the Gates Institute, a pediatric oncologist, and a pioneer in the development of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies, Dr. Fry has an intimate understanding of what it takes to get a drug from initial research phases to commercial manufacturing.

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Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

University Creates Innovative Model for Running a GMP Manufacturing Facility

news outletGenetic Engineering & Biotechnology News
Publish DateFebruary 08, 2023

The University of Colorado has adopted an innovative model for running an academic GMP manufacturing facility without extensive endowment funding. The Charles Gates Biomanufacturing Facility is one of only a few GMP facilities able to manufacture cell- and protein-based therapies for both academic researchers and industry.

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