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General Orthopaedics

Recent insights into the identity of mesenchymal stem cells

Implications for orthopaedic applications

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The ability of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to differentiate in vitro into chondrocytes, osteocytes and myocytes holds great promise for tissue engineering. Skeletal defects are emerging as key targets for treatment using MSCs due to the high responsiveness of bone to interventions in animal models. Interest in MSCs has further expanded in recognition of their ability to release growth factors and to adjust immune responses.

Despite their increasing application in clinical trials, the origin and role of MSCs in the development, repair and regeneration of organs have remained unclear. Until recently, MSCs could only be isolated in a process that requires culture in a laboratory; these cells were being used for tissue engineering without understanding their native location and function. MSCs isolated in this indirect way have been used in clinical trials and remain the reference standard cellular substrate for musculoskeletal engineering. The therapeutic use of autologous MSCs is currently limited by the need for ex vivo expansion and by heterogeneity within MSC preparations. The recent discovery that the walls of blood vessels harbour native precursors of MSCs has led to their prospective identification and isolation. MSCs may therefore now be purified from dispensable tissues such as lipo-aspirate and returned for clinical use in sufficient quantity, negating the requirement for ex vivo expansion and a second surgical procedure.

In this annotation we provide an update on the recent developments in the understanding of the identity of MSCs within tissues and outline how this may affect their use in orthopaedic surgery in the future.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2014;96-B:291–8.

Correspondence should be sent to Mr I. R. Murray; e-mail:

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