BACKGROUND: A robust scalable method for producing enucleated red blood cells (RBCs) is not only a process to produce packed RBC units for transfusion but a potential platform to produce modified RBCs with applications in advanced cellular therapy. Current strategies for producing RBCs have shortcomings in the limited self-renewal capacity of progenitor cells, or difficulties in effectively enucleating erythroid cell lines. We explored a new method to produce RBCs by inducibly expressing c-Myc in primary erythroid progenitor cells and evaluated the proliferative and maturation potential of these modified cells.
RESULTS: Primary erythroid progenitor cells were genetically modified with an inducible gene transfer vector expressing a single transcription factor, c-Myc, and all the gene elements required to achieve dox-inducible expression. Genetically modified cells had enhanced proliferative potential compared to control cells, resulting in exponential growth for at least 6 weeks. Inducibly proliferating erythroid (IPE) cells were isolated with surface receptors similar to colony forming unit-erythroid (CFU-Es), and after removal of ectopic c-Myc expression cells hemoglobinized, decreased in cell size to that of native RBCs, and enucleated achieving cultures with 17% enucleated cells. Experiments with IPE cells at various levels of ectopic c-Myc expression provided insight into differentiation dynamics of the modified cells, and an optimized two-stage differentiation strategy was shown to promote greater expansion and maturation.
CONCLUSIONS: Genetic engineering of adult erythroid progenitor cells with an inducible c-Myc vector established an erythroid progenitor cell line that could produce RBCs, demonstrating the potential of this approach to produce large quantities of RBCs and modified RBC products.