Running the full human developmental clock in interspecies chimeras

Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) can generate specialized cell lineages that have great potential for regenerative therapies and disease modeling. However, the developmental stage of the lineages generated from conventional hPSC cultures in vitro are embryonic in phenotype, and may not possess the cellular maturity necessary for corrective regenerative function in vivo in adult recipients. Here, we present the scientific evidence for how adult human tissues could generate human–animal interspecific chimeras to solve this problem. First, we review the phenotypes of the embryonic lineages differentiated from conventional hPSC in vitro and through organoid technologies and compare their functional relevance to the tissues generated during normal human in utero fetal and adult development. We hypothesize that the developmental incongruence of embryo-stage hPSC-differentiated cells transplanted into a recipient adult host niche is an important mechanism ultimately limiting their utility in cell therapies and adult disease modeling.

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Fig: Comparative incongruence of murine and human embryonic and developmental stages

We propose that this developmental obstacle can be overcome with optimized interspecies chimeras that permit the generation of adult-staged, patient-specific whole organs within animal hosts with human-compatible gestational time-frames. We suggest that achieving this goal may ultimately have to await the derivation of alternative, primitive totipotent-like stem cells with improved embryonic chimera capacities. We review the scientific challenges of deriving alternative human stem cell states with expanded embryonic potential, outline a path forward for conducting this emerging research with appropriate ethical and regulatory oversight, and defend the case of why current federal funding restrictions on this important category of biomedical research should be liberalized.

Thomas, J., Zimmerlin, L., Huo, J.S. et al. Running the full human developmental clock in interspecies chimeras using alternative human stem cells with expanded embryonic potential. npj Regen Med6, 25 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41536-021-00135-1

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