Human embryonic stem (hES) cells hold great promise for future use in various research areas, such as human developmental biology and cell-based therapies. Traditionally, these cells have been cultured on mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) feeder layers, which permit continuous growth in an undifferentiated stage. To use these unique cells in human therapy, an animal-free culture system must be used, which will prevent exposure to mouse retroviruses. Animal-free culture systems for hES cells enjoy three major advantages in the basic culture conditions: 1) the ability to grow these cells under serum-free conditions, 2) maintenance of the cells in an undifferentiated state on Matrigel matrix with 100% MEF-conditioned medium, and 3) the use of either human embryonic fibroblasts or adult fallopian tube epithelial cells as feeder layers. In the present study, we describe an additional animal-free culture system for hES cells, based on a feeder layer derived from foreskin and a serum-free medium. In this culture condition, hES cells maintain all embryonic stem cell features (i.e., pluripotency, immortality, unlimited undifferentiated proliferation capability, and maintenance of normal karyotypes) after prolonged culture of 70 passages (>250 doublings). The major advantage of foreskin feeders is their ability to be continuously cultured for more than 42 passages, thus enabling proper analysis for foreign agents, genetic modification such as antibiotic resistance, and reduction of the enormous workload involved in the continuous preparation of new feeder lines.
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