Articular cartilage degeneration such as osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of chronic pain, stiffness, and loss of joint movement in middle-aged and older population. The repair of the damaged cartilage using autologous chondrocytes is often compromised by their limited capacity for proliferation and the rapid loss of phenotype during ex vivo expansion. Alternatively, stem cells may be a promising cell source because of their high proliferation rate and ability to differentiate into chondrocytes. An effective differentiation platform is needed, however, to ensure the promise of stem cells for cartilage regeneration.
We are currently developing a novel microcarrier technology to tackle the challenges associated with chondrocyte expansion and chondrogenic differentiation of stem cells. Decellularized porcine cartilage extracellular matrix (ECM) is used as a base material to fabricate a biodegradable and transplantable microcarrier for chondrocyte and stem cell-based therapies. More importantly, the growth factors, glycosaminoglycans, and ECM proteins embedded in the matrix endow the microcarrier with pro-chondrogenic activity to support the chondrogenic differentiation and expansion. This cartilage matrix-derived microcarrier thereby presents a promising approach to facilitate cartilage regeneration and the treatment of osteoarthritis.