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Abstract.  Embryonic stem cells have huge potential in the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine as they hold the capacity to produce every type of cell and tissue in the body. In theory, the treatment of human disease could be revolutionized by the ability to generate any cell, tissue, or even organ, ‘on demand’ in the laboratory. This work reviews the history of murine and human ES cell lines, including practical and ethical aspects of ES cell isolation from pre-implantation embryos, maintenance of undifferentiated ES cell lines in the cell culture environment, and differentiation of ES cells in vitro and in vivo into mature somatic cell types. Finally, we discuss advances towards the clinical application of ES cell technology, and some of the obstacles which must be overcome before large scale clinical trials can be considered.