The reconstruction of functioning human tissues ex vivo is becoming an important part of biotechnology. There are compelling scientific, clinical, and biotechnological reasons for fully or partially reconstituting human tissues such as skin, bone marrow, and liver ex vivo. In particular, bone marrow is a tissue of much importance, and there are significant societal and health benefits derived from a successfully constructed ex vivo hematopoietic system. In this article, we review the current status of this effort. The topics covered include the current understanding of the biology of human hematopoiesis, the motivation for reconstructing it ex vivo, the current state of ex vivo human hematopoietic cultures, the development of important metrics to judge culture performance, and an approach based on in vivo mimetics to accomplish this goal. We discuss some applications of functional ex vivo hematopoietic cultures and the biological and engineering challenges that face research in this area. © 1993 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.