BACKGROUND:Human embryonic stem cels are able to self-renew indefinitely and have the capacity to differentiate into al three germ layers (ectoderm, endoderm and mesoderm). These properties imply great potential in the basic research and clinical application, including regenerative medicine, drug screening and toxins, early human embryo, cel transplantation, gene therapy,etc. However, it is a substantial chalenge to develop efficient techniques for their large-scale culture under defined conditions, and for controling and directing their differentiation. For therapeutic purposes, many scholars are trying to establish methods for maintaining pluripotency in defined xeno-free conditions and scalable culture systems. OBJECTIVE:To discuss the progress of serum-free culture systems in human embryonic stem cel research reported in recent years and to highlight the chalenges and advances being made towards the development of serum-free and xeno-free culture systems suitable for therapeutic applications. METHODS:A computer-based search of CNKI and PubMed academic database was performed for articles addressing serum-free culture systems of human embryonic stem cels published from 2008 to 2015. Repetitive and old articles were excluded. Finaly, 58 articles were summarized. RESULTS AND CONCLUSION:Several groups have attempted to exclude individual animal components by using feeder-free matrices, feeder cels of human origin, or defined xeno-free media, aiming to select a suitable matrix and medium that can minimize or not use heterologous components, in order to obtain cel lines at clinical level. However, the current cel products are far from clinical application. There are stil many problems to be solved, such as standardization, normalization and individualization of cel products. With the normative development of stem cel research and industry, human embryonic stem cel products are expected to be widely used in clinic.