Suspension bioreactors are an attractive alternative to static culture of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) for the generation of clinically relevant cell numbers in a controlled system. In this study, we have developed a scalable suspension culture system using serum-free defined media with spinner flasks for hESC expansion as cell aggregates. With optimized cell seeding density and splitting interval, we demonstrate prolonged passaging and expansion of several hESC lines with overall expansion, yield, viability and maintenance of pluripotency equivalent to adherent culture. Human ESCs maintained in suspension as aggregates can be passaged at least 20 times to achieve over 1×10(13) fold calculated expansion with high undifferentiation rate and normal karyotype. Furthermore, the aggregates are able to differentiate to cardiomyocytes in a directed fashion. Finally, we show that the cells can be cryopreserved in serum-free medium and thawed into adherent or suspension cultures to continue passaging and expansion. We have successfully used this method under cGMP or cGMP-equivalent conditions to generate cell banks of several hESC lines. Taken together, our suspension culture system provides a powerful approach for scale-up expansion of hESCs under defined and serum-free conditions for clinical and research applications.
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