Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) have the potential to differentiate into all cell types in the body and hold great promise for regenerative medicine; however, large-scale expansion of undifferentiated hESCs remains a major challenge. Self-renewal of hESCs requires culturing these cells on either mouse or human fibroblast cells (i.e., a feeder layer of cells), or on artificial extracellular matrices (ECMs) while supplementing the media with soluble growth factors. Here we report a completely synthetic ECM system composed of a semi-interpenetrating polymer network (sIPN), a polymer hydrogel, which was designed to allow the independent manipulation of cell adhesion ligand presentation and matrix stiffness. In the short term, hESCs that were cultured on the sIPN adhered to the surface, remained viable, maintained the morphology, and expressed the markers of undifferentiated hESCs. This was the first demonstration that a completely synthetic ECM can support short-term self-renewal of hESCs.
- Artificial extracellular matrices
- Human embryonic stem cells
- Interpenetrating networks