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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


Tribology and wear of articular cartilage is associated with the mechanical properties, which are governed by the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM adapts to resist the loads and motions applied to the tissue. Most investigations take cartilage samples from quadrupeds, where the loading and motions are different to human. However, very few studies have investigated the differences between human and animal femoral head geometry and the mechanical properties of cartilage.

This study assessed the differences between human, porcine, ovine and bovine cartilage from the femoral head; in terms of anatomical geometry, thickness, equilibrium elastic modulus and permeability.

Diameter of porcine (3-6 months old), bovine (18-24 months old), ovine (4 years old) and human femoral heads were measured (n=6). Plugs taken out of the superior region of each femoral head and creep indentation was performed. The human femoral heads were obtained from surgery due to femoral neck fracture. Cartilage thickness was measured by monitoring the resistive force change as a needle traversed the cartilage and bone at a constant feed rate using a mechanical testing machine. The percentage deformation over time was determined by dividing deformation by thickness. A biphasic finite element model was used to obtain the intrinsic material properties of each plug. Data is presented as the mean ± 95% confidence limits. One-way ANOVA was used to test for significant differences (p < or = 0.05).

Significant differences in average femoral head diameter were observed between all animals, where bovine showed the largest femoral head. Human cartilage was found to be significantly thicker than cartilage from all quadrupedal hips. Human cartilage had a significantly larger equilibrium elastic modulus compared to porcine and bovine cartilage. Porcine articular cartilage was measured to be the most permeable which was significantly larger than all the other species. No significant difference in permeability was observed between human and the other two animals: bovine and ovine (Table 1).

The current study has shown that articular cartilage mechanical properties, thickness and geometry of the femoral heads differ significantly between different species. Therefore, it is necessary to consider these variations when choosing animal tissue to represent human.