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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


One reason why NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) does not support operations by the NHS to heal hyaline cartilage lesions using a patients own cells is because there is no clear evidence to show that these operations are beneficial and cost-effective in the long term. Specifically, NICE identified a deficiency of high quality cartilage being produced in repaired joints. The presence of high quality cartilage is linked to long-lasting and functional repair of cartilage. The benchmark for quality, NICE stipulate, is repair cartilage that is stiff and strong and looks similar to the normal tissue surrounding it, i.e. mature hyaline articular cartilage.

Biopsy material from autologous cartilage implantation surgical procedures has the appearance of immature articular cartilage and is frequently a mixture of hyaline and fibrocartilage. Osteoarthritic cartilage, in its early stages, also exhibits characteristics of immature articular cartilage in that it expresses proteins found in embryonic and foetal developmental stages, and is highly cellular as evidenced through the presence of chondrocyte clusters. Therefore, an ability to modulate the phenotype and the structure of the extracellular matrix of articular cartilage could positively affect the course of repair and regeneration of articular cartilage lesions. In order to do this, the biochemical stimuli that induce the transition of an essentially unstructured amorphous cartilage mass (immature articular cartilage) to one that is highly structured and ordered, and biomechanically adapted to its particular function (mature articular cartilage) has to be identified.

We show for the first time, that fibroblast growth factor-2 and transforming growth factor beta-1 induce precocious maturation of immature articular cartilage. Our data demonstrates that it is possible to significantly enhance maturation of cartilage tissue using growth factor stimulation; consequently this may have applications in transplantation therapy, or through phenotypic modulation of osteoarthritic chondrocytes in diseased cartilage in order to stimulate growth and maturation of repair tissue.