A Novel Method to Induce Cartilage Regeneration with Cubic Microcartilage

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Cartilage tissue is characterized by its poor regenerative properties, and the clinical performance of cartilage grafts to replace cartilage defects has been unsatisfactory. Recently, cartilage regeneration with mature chondrocytes and stem cells has been developed and applied in clinical settings. However, there are challenges with the use of mature chondrocytes and stem cells for tissue regeneration, including the high costs associated with the standard stem cell isolation methods and the decreased cell viability due to cell manipulation. Previous studies demonstrated that cartilage can be regenerated from chondrocyte clusters that contain stem cells. Based upon some of the existing techniques, the goal of this study was to develop a novel and practical method to induce cartilage regeneration. A microslicer device was developed to process cartilage tissues into micron-size cartilage (microcartilage) in a minimally invasive manner. We evaluated microcartilage sizes and demonstrated 100-400 µm as optimal for generating a high cell yield with collagenase digestion. In addition, autologous intrafascial implantation of the composites of microcartilage and an absorbable scaffold with a slow-release system of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) was carried out to induce cartilage regeneration. Our results demonstrated that the extent of bFGF diffusion depends on the size of microcartilage, and that cartilage regeneration was induced most effectively with 100 µm of microcartilage via SOX5 upregulation. These findings suggest that cartilage regeneration is possible with microcartilage as a source of cells without ex vivo cell expansion.

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