The clinical use of stem cells for regenerative medicine is critically dependent on preclinical studies in animal models. In this review we examine some of the key issues and challenges in the use of animal models to study human stem cell biology-experimental standardization, body size, immunological barriers, cell survival factors, fusion of host and donor cells, and in vivo imaging and tracking. We focus particular attention on the various imaging modalities that can be used to track cells in living animals, comparing their strengths and weaknesses and describing technical developments that are likely to lead to new opportunities for the dynamic assessment of stem cell behavior in vivo. We then provide an overview of some of the most commonly used animal models, their advantages and disadvantages, and examples of their use for xenotypic transplantation of human stem cells, with separate reviews of models involving rodents, ungulates, nonhuman primates, and the chicken embryo. As the use of human somatic, embryonic, and induced pluripotent stem cells increases, so too will the range of applications for these animal models. It is likely that increasingly sophisticated uses of human/animal chimeric models will be developed through advances in genetic manipulation, cell delivery, and in vivo imaging.
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