Technical Assessment of the First 20 Years of Research Using Mouse Embryonic Stem Cell Lines


  • Gregory J. Downing D.O., Ph.D.,

    Corresponding author
    1. Office of Technology and Industrial Relations, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
    • Director, Office of Technology and Industrial Relations, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Building 31, Room 10A-52, MSC 2580, 31 Center Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892-2580 USA. Telephone: 301-496-1550; Fax: 301-496-7807
    Search for more papers by this author
  • James F. Battey Jr.

    1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
    Search for more papers by this author


This review assesses the effect that mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells have had on biomedical research during the 20 years that followed their isolation in 1981. Notable scientific discoveries enabled by these cell lines—including insights into cell cycle regulation, spatial and temporal relationships during development, and the roles of transcription factors and homeobox genes in developmental pathways—are discussed. The acceleration of basic discovery of gene function and the genetic basis of disease using a breakthrough technology (homologous recombination between modified gene constructs and the ES cell genome) became the principal enabling method to establish transgenic laboratory animals with single targeted genetic change. This review also examines the widespread influence of mouse ES cells as an enabling technology by highlighting their effect on drug development paradigms, directed differentiation to treat specific diseases, nuclear transfer protocols used in cloning, and establishment of methodologies for isolating non-rodent ES cells. This review concludes with a brief analysis of the most influential mouse ES cell lines of the first 20 years as viewed within the twin contexts of human disease application and contributions to the primary literature.