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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


Hyaline cartilage defects are a significant clinical problem for which a plethora of cartilage repair techniques are used. One such technique is cartilage replacement therapy using autologous chondrocyte or mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) implantation (ACI). Mesenchymal stem cells are increasingly being used for these types of repair technique because they are relatively easy to obtain and can be expanded to generate millions of cells. However, implanted MSCs can terminally differentiate and produce osteogenic tissue which is highly undesirable, also, MSCs generally only produce fibrocartilage which does not make biomechanically resilient repair tissue, an attribute that is crucial in high weight-bearing areas. Tissue-specific adult stem cells would be ideal candidates to fill the void, and as we have shown previously in animal model systems [Dowthwaite et al, 2004, J Cell Sci 117;889], they can be expanded to generate hundreds of millions of cells, produce hyaline cartilage and they have a restricted differential potential. Articular chondroprogenitors do not readily terminally differentiate down the osteogenic lineage.

At present, research focused on isolating tissue-specific stem cells from articular cartilage has met with modest success. Our results demonstrate that using differential adhesion it is possible to easily isolate articular cartilage progenitor populations from human hyaline cartilage and that these cells can be subsequently expanded in vitro to a high population doubling whilst maintaining a normal karyotype. Articular cartilage progenitors maintain telomerase activity and telomere length that are a characteristic of progenitor/stem cells and differentiate to produce hyaline cartilage.

In conclusion, we propose the identification and characterisation of a novel articular cartilage progenitor population, resident in human cartilage, which will greatly benefit future cell-based cartilage repair therapies.