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ALTEX. 2017;34(2):267-277. doi: 10.14573/altex.1607111. Epub 2016 Oct 21.

Ex vivo culture platform for assessment of cartilage repair treatment strategies.

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University Hospital Wuerzburg, Department Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (TERM), Wuerzburg, Germany.
LifeTec Group BV, Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
Translational Center Wuerzburg 'Regenerative Therapies in Oncology and Musculoskeletal Disease', Wuerzburg, Germany.


There is a great need for valuable ex vivo models that allow for assessment of cartilage repair strategies to reduce the high number of animal experiments. In this paper we present three studies with our novel ex vivo osteochondral culture platform. It consists of two separated media compartments for cartilage and bone, which better represents the in vivo situation and enables supply of factors specific to the different needs of bone and cartilage. We investigated whether separation of the cartilage and bone compartments and/or culture media results in the maintenance of viability, structural and functional properties of cartilage tissue. Next, we evaluated for how long we can preserve cartilage matrix stability of osteochondral explants during long-term culture over 84 days. Finally, we determined the optimal defect size that does not show spontaneous self-healing in this culture system. It was demonstrated that separated compartments for cartilage and bone in combination with tissue-specific medium allow for long-term culture of osteochondral explants while maintaining cartilage viability, matrix tissue content, structure and mechanical properties for at least 56 days. Furthermore, we could create critical size cartilage defects of different sizes in the model. The osteochondral model represents a valuable preclinical ex vivo tool for studying clinically relevant cartilage therapies, such as cartilage biomaterials, for their regenerative potential, for evaluation of drug and cell therapies, or to study mechanisms of cartilage regeneration. It will undoubtedly reduce the number of animals needed for in vivo testing.


cartilage repair; critical size defect; ex vivo model; osteochondral biopsy; replacement

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