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Using Advanced Cell Culture Techniques to Differentiate Pluripotent Stem Cells and Recreate Tissue Structures Representative of Teratoma Xenografts

Smith, L. A. and Hidalgo Aguilar, A. and Owens, D. D. G. and Quelch, R. H. and Knight, E. and Przyborski, S. A. (2021) 'Using Advanced Cell Culture Techniques to Differentiate Pluripotent Stem Cells and Recreate Tissue Structures Representative of Teratoma Xenografts.', Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology - Cell Growth and Division, 9 . p. 667246.


Various methods are currently used to investigate human tissue differentiation, including human embryo culture and studies utilising pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) such as in vitro embryoid body formation and in vivo teratoma assays. Each method has its own distinct advantages, yet many are limited due to being unable to achieve the complexity and maturity of tissue structures observed in the developed human. The teratoma xenograft assay allows maturation of more complex tissue derivatives, but this method has ethical issues surrounding animal usage and significant protocol variation. In this study, we have combined three-dimensional (3D) in vitro cell technologies including the common technique of embryoid body (EB) formation with a novel porous scaffold membrane, in order to prolong cell viability and extend the differentiation of PSC derived EBs. This approach enables the formation of more complex morphologically identifiable 3D tissue structures representative of all three primary germ layers. Preliminary in vitro work with the human embryonal carcinoma line TERA2.SP12 demonstrated improved EB viability and enhanced tissue structure formation, comparable to teratocarcinoma xenografts derived in vivo from the same cell line. This is thought to be due to reduced diffusion distances as the shape of the spherical EB transforms and flattens, allowing for improved nutritional/oxygen support to the developing structures over extended periods. Further work with EBs derived from murine embryonic stem cells demonstrated that the formation of a wide range of complex, recognisable tissue structures could be achieved within 2-3 weeks of culture. Rudimentary tissue structures from all three germ layers were present, including epidermal, cartilage and epithelial tissues, again, strongly resembling tissue structure of teratoma xenografts of the same cell line. Proof of concept work with EBs derived from the human embryonic stem cell line H9 also showed the ability to form complex tissue structures within this system. This novel yet simple model offers a controllable, reproducible method to achieve complex tissue formation in vitro. It has the potential to be used to study human developmental processes, as well as offering an animal free alternative method to the teratoma assay to assess the developmental potential of novel stem cell lines.

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Publisher statement:All Frontiers articles from July 2012 onwards are published with open access under the CC-BY Creative Commons attribution license (the current version is CC-BY, version 4.0). This means that the author(s) retains copyright, but the content is free to download, distribute, and adapt for commercial or non-commercial purposes, given appropriate attribution to the original article.
Date accepted:12 April 2021
Date deposited:20 April 2021
Date of first online publication:06 May 2021
Date first made open access:20 April 2021

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