Nucleus pulposus repair with cultured autologous elastic cartilage derived chondrocytes
Low back pain is one of the most common medical conditions in the Western world. Disc degeneration, an inevitable process of ageing, is one of the major causes of low back pain. Autologous chondrocyte transplantation (ACT) is an increasingly popular method of addressing pathological disorders of cartilage. The purpose of our study was to determine whether autologous chondrocytes from elastic cartilage could survive and synthesise a cartilage specific matrix in the intervertebral disc of rabbits. Sixteen lumbar intervertebral discs (IVD) of New Zealand White rabbits were analysed. In 6 IVD, the nucleus pulposus was evacuated and replaced with tissue engineered autologous chondrocytes from auricular cartilage. In the second group, only the nucleus pulposus was evacuated from 6 IVD, with no chondrocytes implantation. Four non-operated IVD were used as a control. Six months after the operation, the animals were euthanized and the IVD were analysed histologically. Autologous cartilage implants were well tolerated by the host for up to six months in vivo. There was only hyaline-like cartilage in the place of the nucleus pulposus. We could not detect any elastic fibres in the new cartilage matrix. In IVD from which only the nucleus pulposus was evacuated and no chondrocytes were implanted, just fibrous tissue was found instead of nucleus pulposus. The overall histological analysis of new cartilage produced after implantation in our study confirmed the hypothesis that ACT from auricular cartilage can be implanted into the IVD instead of the nucleus pulposus and that a significant percentage of implanted chondrocytes survive and produce hyaline-like cartilage.
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