Over one million patients per year undergo some type of procedure involving cartilage reconstruction. Polymer hydrogels, such as alginate, have been shown to be effective carriers for chondrocytes in subcutaneous cartilage formation. The goal of our current study was to develop a method to create complex structures (nose bridge, chin, etc.) with good dimensional tolerance to form cartilage in specific shapes. Molds of facial implants were prepared using Silastic ERTV. Suspensions of chondrocytes in 2% alginate were gelled by mixing with CaSO(4) (0.2 g/mL) and injected into the molds. Constructs of various cell concentrations (10, 25, and 50 million/mL) were implanted in the dorsal aspect of nude mice and harvested at times up to 30 weeks. Analysis of implanted constructs indicated progressive cartilage formation with time. Proteoglycan and collagen constructs increased with time to approximately 60% that of native tissue. Equilibrium modulus likewise increased with time to 15% that of normal tissue, whereas hydraulic permeability decreased to 20 times that of native tissue. Implants seeded with greater concentrations of cells increased proteoglycan content and collagen content and equilibrium and decreased permeability. Production of shaped cartilage implants by this technique presents several advantages, including good dimensional tolerance, high sample-to-sample reproducibility, and high cell viability. This system may be useful in the large-scale production of precisely shaped cartilage implants.
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