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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


The osteo-regenerative properties of allograft have recently been enhanced by addition of autogenous skeletal stem cells to treat orthopaedic conditions characterised by lost bone stock. There are however, multiple disadvantages to allograft, including cost, availability, consistency and potential for disease transmission, and trabecular tantalum represents a potential alternative. Tantalum is already in widespread orthopaedic use, although in applications where there is poor initial implant stability, or when tantalum is used in conjunction with bone grafting, loading may need to be limited until sound integration has occurred. Development of enhanced bone-implant integration strategies will improve patient outcomes, extending the clinical applications of tantalum as a substitute for allograft.

The aim of this study was to examine the osteoconductive potential of trabecular tantalum in comparison to human allograft to determine its potential as an alternative to allograft.

Human bone marrow stromal cells (500,000 cells per ml) were cultured on blocks of trabecular tantalum or allograft for 28 days in basal and osteogenic media. Molecular profiling, confocal and scanning electron microscopy, as well as live-dead staining and biochemical assays were used to characterise cell adherence, proliferation and phenotype.

Cells displayed extensive adherence and proliferation throughout trabecular tantalum evidenced by CellTracker immunocytochemistry and SEM. Tantalum-cell constructs cultured in osteogenic conditions displayed extensive matrix production. Electron microscopy confirmed significant cellular growth through the tantalum to a depth of 5mm. In contrast to cells cultured with allograft in both basal and osteogenic conditions, cell proliferation assays showed significantly higher activity with tantalum than with allograft (P<0.01). Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) assay and molecular profiling confirmed no significant difference in expression of ALP, Runx-2, Col-1 and Sox-9 between cells cultured on tantalum and allograft.

These studies demonstrate the ability of trabecular tantalum to support skeletal cell growth and osteogenic differentiation comparable to allograft. Trabecular tantalum represents a good alternative to allograft for tissue engineering osteo-regenerative strategies in the context of lost bone stock. Such clinical scenarios will become increasingly common given the ageing demographic, the projected rates of revision arthroplasty requiring bone stock replacement and the limitations of allograft. Further mechanical testing and in vivo studies are on-going.