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Objective. Despite new strategies in tissue engineering, cartilage repair remains a major challenge. Our aim is to treat
patients with focal lesions of articular cartilage with autologous hyaline cartilage implants using a scaffold-free approach. In this article, we describe experiments to optimize production of scaffold-free cartilage discs.
Design. Articular chondrocytes were expanded in vitro, seeded in transwell inserts and redifferentiated using established chondrogenic components. Experimental variables included testing 2 different expansion media, adding bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP2), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), growth/differentiation factor 5 (GDF5), or fibroblast growth factor 18 (FGF18) to the differentiation medium and allowing the disc to float freely in large wells. Cartilage discs were analyzed by weight and thickness, real-time RT-qPCR (reverse transcriptase qualitative polymerase chain reaction), fluorescence immunostaining, transmission electron microscopy, second harmonic generation imaging, and measurement of Young’s modulus.
Results. Addition of BMP2 to the chondrogenic differentiation medium (CDM) was essential for stable disc formation, while IGF1, GDF5, and FGF18 were redundant. Allowing discs to float freely in CDM on a moving platform increased disc thickness
compared with discs kept continuously in transwell inserts. Discs cultured for 6 weeks reached a thickness of almost
2 mm and Young’s modulus of >200 kPa. There was abundant type II collagen. Collagen fibrils were 25 nm thick, with a
tendency to be organized perpendicular to the disc surface.
Conclusion. Scaffold-free engineering using BMP2 and providing free movement in CDM produced firm, elastic cartilage discs with abundant type II collagen. This approach may potentially be used in clinical trials.

Reference
Scaffold-Free Engineering of Human Cartilage Implants
Frerker N, Karlsen TA, Lilledahl MB, Brorson SH, Tibballs JE, Brinchmann JE
CARTILAGE 2021, Vol. 13 (Suppl I) 1237S-1249S
DOI: 10.1177/19476035211007923