Forward programming of human pluripotent stem cells to a megakaryocyte-erythrocyte bi-potent progenitor population: an in vitro system for the production of platelets and red blood cells for transfusion medicine.
There exists a need to produce platelets in vitro for use in transfusion medicine, due to increased platelet demands and short shelf life. Our lab uses human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), as an attractive alternative supply, as iPSCs can be cultured indefinitely and differentiate into almost any cell type. Using a technique called forward programming, we over express three key haematological transcription factors (TFs), pushing iPSCs towards the megakaryocyte lineage, to produce mature megakaryocytes, the platelet precursor cell type. A major limitation of the forward programming technique is a reliance of lentiviral transduction to overexpress the three TFs, which leads to a number of issues including heterogeneity and high experimental costs. To overcome this, I have developed an inducible iPSC line by inserting the forward programming TFs into a genomic safe harbour, using genome editing techniques. TF expression is strictly controlled, with the TFs expressed only after chemical induction. Inducing forward programming is an efficient method for producing mature megakaryocytes and these cells maintain higher purity in long-term cultures, when compared to cells produced by the lentiviral method. Removing the requirement of lentiviral transduction is a major advancement, making forward programming more amenable to scaling-up, thus moving this technology closer towards our goal of producing in vitro platelets for use in transfusion medicine. I have also shown that forward programming generates a bi-potent progenitor population, from which erythroblasts can be generated, by altering only media conditions. As for megakaryocyte cultures, inducing forward programming improves the purity of erythroblasts produced, compared to the lentiviral method. I have developed single cell progenitor assays combined with index sorting of different cell surface markers, to allow retrospective analysis of cells which successfully generate colonies. The aim of this work is to better characterise the progenitor cells produced by forward programming, to allow further study of this cell type. Single cell RNA-seq of megakaryocytes revealed heterogeneity in long-term cultures and also identified novel candidate surface markers that may help to further characterise the progenitor cell population.