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Stem Cells Dev. 2010 Jul;19(7):989-98. doi: 10.1089/scd.2009.0297.

Reduced differentiation efficiency of murine embryonic stem cells in stirred suspension bioreactors.

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Department of Medical Science, Schulich School of Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary , Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


The use of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) for regenerative medicine has generated increased attention due to the favorable attributes of these cells; namely, they are pluripotent and possess long-term self-renewal capacity. The initial aims of the present study were: (i) to use stirred suspension bioreactors to expand and differentiate ESCs into osteogenic and chondrogenic cell types and (ii) to explore if these ESC-derived cells influenced skeletal healing in an in vivo fracture model. We show that differentiation protocols used in static culture are insufficient when applied directly to suspension culture bioreactors. Moreover, when bioreactor-differentiated cells are transplanted into a burr-hole defect in bone, severe disruption of the bone architecture was noted at the fracture site, as determined by microcomputed tomography (microCT) imaging and histopathology. Further characterization of the bioreactor-differentiated cultures revealed that a subpopulation of cells in the resulting aggregates expressed the pluripotency marker Oct-4 in the nucleus. Nuclear Oct-4 expression persisted even after 30 days of culture in the absence of leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). Remarkably, and unlike ESCs differentiated into skeletal cell types in static cultures, bioreactor-differentiated aggregates implanted subcutaneously into SCID mice formed teratomas. The development of effective ESC differentiation protocols for suspension bioreactors will require a more complete understanding of the environmental conditions within these culture systems and the influence that these conditions have on the regulation of pluripotency and differentiation in ESCs.

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