Transplantation of Endothelial Cells to Mitigate Acute and Chronic Radiation Injury to Vital Organs
Current therapeutic approaches for treatment of exposure to radiation involve the use of antioxidants, chelating agents, recombinant growth factors and transplantation of stem cells (e.g., hematopoietic stem cell transplantation). However, exposure to high-dose radiation is associated with severe damage to the vasculature of vital organs, often leading to impaired healing, tissue necrosis, thrombosis and defective regeneration caused by aberrant fibrosis. It is very unlikely that infusion of protective chemicals will reverse severe damage to the vascular endothelial cells (ECs). The role of irradiated vasculature in mediating acute and chronic radiation syndromes has not been fully appreciated or well studied. New approaches are necessary to replace and reconstitute ECs in organs that are irreversibly damaged by radiation. We have set forth the novel concept that ECs provide paracrine signals, also known as angiocrine signals, which not only promote healing of irradiated tissue but also direct organ regeneration without provoking fibrosis. We have developed innovative technologies that enable manufacturing and banking of human GMP-grade ECs. These ECs can be transplanted intravenously to home to and engraft to injured tissues where they augment organ repair, while preventing maladaptive fibrosis. In the past, therapeutic transplantation of ECs was not possible due to a shortage of availability of suitable donor cell sources and preclinical models, a lack of understanding of the immune privilege of ECs, and inadequate methodologies for expansion and banking of engraftable ECs. Recent advances made by our group as well as other laboratories have breached the most significant of these obstacles with the development of technologies to manufacture clinical-scale quantities of GMP-grade and human ECs in culture, including genetically diverse reprogrammed human amniotic cells into vascular ECs (rAC-VECs) or human pluripotent stem cells into vascular ECs (iVECs). This approach provides a path to therapeutic EC transplantation that can be infused concomitantly or sequentially with hematopoietic stem cell transplantation more than 24 h after irradiation to support multi-organ regeneration, thereby improving immediate and long-term survival, while limiting long-term morbidity resulting from nonregenerative damage repair pathways.