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Building Better Bone

March 24, 2010

Color coded contours of perfusion flowIn science, as in life, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes the better strategy is to think creatively about what exists and build a more robust wheel. Or, in the case of tissue engineers working in the laboratory, build better experimental bone grafts. In the February 23 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, NIDCR grantee Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic of Columbia University and colleagues report taking an important step forward in learning to integrate existing tissue engineering concepts into a more efficient production process. In the study, the scientists used this streamlined process to engineer a human stem cell-derived bone condyle for the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). A condyle is the ball in the ball-and-socket structure of a joint.

According to the scientists, the technological improvements in fabricating the scaffold, the mold that forms the three-dimensional shape of the replacement tissue, allowed for greater precision in capturing the unique geometry of the TMJ condyle. The group also designed a radically novel “anatomical” bioreactor with the aid of computation to culture a graft as complex as the TMJ. The bioreactor – 5 centimeters high and 7.5 centimeters in external diameter – continuously perfuses the interstitial pores of the scaffold with growth medium to transport nutrients and oxygen to the multi-potent human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) throughout the cultured TMJ construct and remove their waste products. The modifications allowed better induction of the hMSCs, allowing them to differentiate, lay down bone tissue matrix, and grow into a fully viable TMJ condyle.

“The engineered graft does not replicate the entire joint anatomy inclusive of the cartilage layer and the TMJ disc that are often damaged in TMJ disorders,” the scientists noted. “However, this approach could impact developmental biology (where high-fidelity tissue models can be used to study bone formation) and bioengineering and clinical translation (by providing surgeons with large and viable anatomically shaped bone grafts for treating craniofacial or orthopedic wounds.” 

  • Engineering anatomically shaped human bone grafts. Grayson WL, Fröhlich M, Yeager K, Bhumiratana S, Chan ME, Cannizzaro C, Wan LQ, Liu XS, Guo XE, Vunjak-Novakovic G. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Feb 23;107(8):3299-304. Epub 2009 Oct 9.

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This page last updated: February 26, 2014