There is a vast clinical need for the development of an animal model to study the fundamentals of healing of injured or diseased diarthrodial joints (knee, hip, shoulder, wrist, etc). Current prosthetic replacements do not offer acceptable treatment for injuries and diseases of these joints in young active individuals. New clinical treatment modalities, based on sound biologic principles, are sought for the development of repair or healing tissues engineered to have similar biomechanical properties as normal articular cartilage. In this paper we present a brief review of this need, and propose a grafting procedure which may lead to a successful animal model for studies of long term repair of major osteochondral defects. This grafting procedure uses an autologous periosteum-bone graft or an autologous-synthetic bone replacement graft. We have applied these grafts for in vivo repair of large surgically created defects in the high weight bearing area of the distal femoral condyle of mature New Zealand white rabbits. Further, an interdisciplinary study, including histochemistry, biochemistry (composition and metabolic activities), and biomechanics (biphasic properties), was performed to assess the feasibility of our animal model to generate viable repair tissues. We found our grafting procedure produced, 8 weeks postoperatively, tissues which were very similar to those found in normal articular cartilage. However, our histological studies indicate incomplete bonding between the repair tissue and the adjacent cartilage, and lack of an appropriate superficial zone at the articular surface. These deficiencies may cause long term failure of the repair tissue. Further studies must be undertaken to enhance development of a strong bond and a collagen-rich surface zone. This may require the use of growth factors (e.g., transforming growth factors β) capable of simulating extra collagen production, or the use of serum derived tissue glue for bonding. At present, we are pursuing these studies.

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