Embryonic stem (ES) cells are pluripotent cells that are capable of differentiating all the somatic cell lineages, including those in the liver tissue. We describe the generation of functional hepatic-like cells from mouse ES (mES) cells using a biodegradable polymer scaffold and a rotating bioreactor that allows simulated microgravity. Cells derived from ES cells cultured in the three-dimensional (3D) culture system with exogenous growth factors and hormones can differentiate into hepatic-like cells with morphologic characteristics of typical mature hepatocytes. Reverse-transcription polymerase chain-reaction testing, Western blot testing, immunostaining, and flow cytometric analysis show that these cells express hepatic-specific genes and proteins during differentiation. Differentiated cells on scaffolds further exhibit morphologic traits and biomarkers characteristic of liver cells, including albumin production, cytochrome P450 activity, and low-density lipoprotein uptake. When these stem cell-bearing scaffolds are transplanted into severe combined immunodeficient mice, the 3D constructs remained viable, undergoing further differentiation and maturation of hepatic-like cells in vivo. In conclusion, the growth and differentiation of ES cells in a biodegradable polymer scaffold and a rotating microgravity bioreactor can yield functional and organizational hepatocytes useful for research involving bioartificial liver and engineered liver tissue.
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