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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2001;9 Suppl A:S6-15.

Articular cartilage repair using a tissue-engineered cartilage-like implant: an animal study.

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  • 1Institute of Pathology, University of Bern, Switzerland.



Because articular cartilage has limited ability to repair itself, treatment of (osteo)chondral lesions remains a clinical challenge. We aimed to evaluate how well a tissue-engineered cartilage-like implant, derived from chondrocytes cultured in a novel patented, scaffold-free bioreactor system, would perform in minipig knees with chondral, superficial osteochondral, and full-thickness articular defects.


For in vitro implant preparation, we used full-thickness porcine articular cartilage and digested chondrocytes. Bioreactors were seeded with 20x10(6) cells and incubated for 3 weeks. Subsequent to culture, tissue cartilage-like implants were divided for assessment of viability, formaldehyde-fixed and processed by standard histological methods. Some samples were also prepared for electron microscopy (TEM). Proteoglycans and collagens were identified and quantified by SDS-PAGE gels. For in vivo studies in adult minipigs, medial parapatellar arthrotomy was performed unilaterally. Three types of defects were created mechanically in the patellar groove of the femoral condyle. Tissue-engineered cartilage-like implants were placed using press-fit fixation, without supplementary fixation devices. Control defects were not grafted. Animals could bear full weight with an unlimited range of motion. At 4 and 24 weeks postsurgery, explanted knees were assessed using the modified ICRS classification for cartilage repair.


After 3-4 weeks of bioreactor incubation, cultured chondrocytes developed a 700-microm- to 1-mm-thick cartilage-like tissue. Cell density was similar to that of fetal cartilage, and cells stained strongly for Alcian blue and safranin O. The percentage of viable cells remained nearly constant (approximately 90%). Collagen content was similar to that of articular cartilage, as shown by SDS-PAGE. At explantation, the gross morphological appearance of grafted defects appeared like normal cartilage, whereas controls showed irregular fibrous tissue covering the defect. Improved histologic appearance was maintained for 6 months postoperatively. Although defects were not always perfectly level upon implantation at explanation the implant level matched native cartilage levels with no tissue hypertrophy. Once in place, implants remodelled to tissues with decreased cell density and a columnar organization.


Repair of cartilage defects with a tissue-engineered implant yielded a consistent gross cartilage repair with a matrix predominantly composed of type II collagen up to 6 months after implantation. This initial result holds promise for the use of this unique bioreactor/tissue-engineered implant in humans.

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