Embryonic stem cells hold potential in the fields of regenerative medicine, developmental biology, tissue regeneration, disease pathogenicity, and drug discovery. Embryonic stem (ES) cell lines are now available in primates, including man, rhesus, and cynomologous monkeys. Monkey ES cells serve as invaluable clinically relevant models for studies that can't be conducted in humans because of practical or ethical limitations, or in rodents because of differences in physiology and anatomy. Here, we review the current status of nonhuman primate research with ES cells, beginning with a description of their isolation, characterization, and availability. Substantial limitations still plague the use of primate ES cells, such as their required growth on feeder layers, poor cloning efficiency, and restricted availability. The ability to produce homogenous populations of both undifferentiated as well as differentiated phenotypes is an important challenge, and genetic approaches to achieving these objectives are discussed. Finally, safety, efficiency, and feasibility issues relating to the transplantation of ES-derived cells are considered.
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