We are using human pluripotent stem cells (human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs)) to differentiate cell types that are affected in diseases of the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Because primary patient PNS cells in large numbers are nearly impossible to access for research this technology enables the study of disease mechanisms and provides a platform for drug screening.
We have developed in vitro differentiation protocols to derive neural crest cells (Zeltner et al, 2014, JoVE), peripheral sensory neurons (Zeltner et al., patented – proprioceptors) and autonomic neurons (Zeltner et al, 2016, Nature Medicine). We are expanding this work to generate the sensory neuron subtypes, nociceptors and mechanoceptors, sympatho-adrenal progenitors, adreno-genital progenitors, sympathetic neurons, adrenal gland medulla and adrenal gland cortex. We are particularly interested how these cells are affected in stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder as well as in inherited disorders specifically affecting these cell types.
Furthermore, we are working on generating adrenal gland organoids, i.e. 3D structures representing the human organ. This will allow in depth study of adrenal gland development as well as modeling diseases affecting adrenal gland tissues.