Despite a steady increase in the numbers of researchers over the last decade since human embryonic stem cells were isolated several practical difficulties exist in the growing and maintenance  of the cell lines.  Most notable amongst these are the tendency for human embryonic stem cells to acquire genetic changes during long term culture and complex substrate and media requirements for the maintenance of the stem cell state.

Improving Growth Conditions

When first derived hES cultures essentially adopted the same culture conditions as the original mouse ES derivations i.e. the use of primary mouse feeder cells with a serum or serum-like based basal media.

More recently several signalling pathways have been identified as playing a significant role in hES cell self-renewal. In particular FGF, TGF-beta, BMP, WNT have all been proposed to modulate the behaviour of ES cells in culture. Functional studies have indicated that in particular high levels of FGF signalling coupled with suppression of BMP signalling by the use of enhanced TGF-beta signalling promote the self-renewal of hES cells in vitro. It is the presence and apparent activity of these pathways that has lead to a number of rationally designed growth media for hES culture.


However a number of points need to be addressed:

With these points in mind it was decided to test a selection of published media formulations for their ability to maintain a wide range of cell lines in a wide range of laboratories.

The study is divided into two parts:


Part 1

Basic experimental design:


Summary of Part 1

Key project stages:


Participating Laboratories

The following laboratories are to carry forward the phase one study:


Part 2

In addition to the two test phases described above a set of experiments, coordinated by Peter Zandstra, University of Toronto, will seek to address what components common to the reported growth media are in fact critical hES cell self-renewal.


Genetic Stability

As part of the ongoing efforts started in ISCI-1 to characterize further  human embryonic stem cell isolates a prospective study is being undertaken to catalogue the range of karyotypic changes that are seen in hES isolates  worldwide.  It is hoped that by following a large cohort of cell lines a more definitive picture of common karyotypic changes and minimal amplicons might be identified.

Design and technology by tmg