Non-healing bone defects have a significant socioeconomic impact in the U.S. with approximately 600,000 bone grafting procedures performed annually. Autografts and allografts are clinically the most common treatments; however, autologous donor bone is in limited supply, and allografts often have poor mechanical properties. Therefore, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine strategies, which employ the use of cells or growth factors to heal bone, are being developed to address issues with clinical bone grafting. However, the need for an abundant mineralizing cell source limits the progress of these therapies. The overall objective of this work was to develop bone tissue engineering strategies that enhance healing of orthotopic defects by targeting specific osteogenic cell signaling pathways. The general approach included the investigation of two different tissue engineering strategies, which both focused on directed osteoblastic differentiation to promote bone formation.
In the first cell-based strategy, we hypothesized that constitutive overexpression of the osteoblast-specific transcription factor, Runx2, in bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs) would promote orthotopic bone formation in vivo. We tested this hypothesis by delivering Runx2-modified BMSCs on synthetic scaffolds to critically-sized defects in rats. We found that Runx2-modified BMSCs significantly increased orthotopic bone formation compared to empty defects, cell-free scaffolds and unmodified BMSCs. This gene therapy approach to bone regeneration provides a mineralizing cell source which has clinical relevance.
In the second biomaterial-based strategy, we hypothesized that incorporation of the collagen-mimetic peptide, GFOGER, into synthetic bone scaffolds would promote orthotopic bone formation in vivo without the use of cells or growth factors. We tested this hypothesis by passively adsorbing GFOGER onto poly-caprolactone (PCL) scaffolds and implanting them into critically-sized orthotopic defects in rats. We found that GFOGER-coated scaffolds significantly increased bone formation compared to uncoated scaffolds in a dose dependent manner. Development of this cell-free strategy for bone tissue engineering provides an inexpensive therapeutic alternative to clinical bone defect healing, which avoids issues of immune response from implanted materials and could be implemented in a point of care application.
Both of the strategies developed in this work take advantage of specific osteoblastic signaling pathways involved in bone healing. Further development of these tissue engineering strategies for bone regeneration will provide clinically-relevant treatment options for healing large bone defects in humans by employing well-controlled signals to promote bone formation and eliminating the need for donor bone.
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