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Biomaterials. 2006 Dec;27(36):5968-77. Epub 2006 Aug 9.

Co-culture of human embryonic stem cells with murine embryonic fibroblasts on microwell-patterned substrates.

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  • 1Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA. alik@mit.edu


Human embryonic stem (hES) cells are generally cultured as cell clusters on top of a feeder layer formed by mitotically inactivated murine embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) to maintain their undifferentiated state. This co-culture system, which is typically used to expand the population of undifferentiated hES cells, presents several challenges since it is difficult to control cell cluster size. Large cell clusters tend to differentiate at the borders, and clusters with different sizes may lead to heterogeneous differentiation patterns within embryoid bodies. In this work, we develop a new approach to culture hES cells with controlled cluster size and number through merging microfabrication, and biomaterials technologies. Polymeric microwells were fabricated and used to control the size and uniformity of hES cell clusters in co-culture with MEFs. The results show that it is possible to culture hES cells homogeneously while keeping their undifferentiated state as confirmed by the expression of stem cell markers octamer binding protein 4 (Oct-4) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP). In addition, these clusters can be recovered from the microwells to generate nearly homogeneous cell aggregates for differentiation experiments.

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