Objective: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease that limits the mobility of patients and is of considerable economical importance. Up to now, despite the increasing number of patients with OA, treatments to manage the disease remain symptomatic, designed to control pain, and improve function and quality of life limiting adverse events. With the aim to explore a new approach to treat OA patients suffering from early degenerative lesions of hyaline cartilage, we transplanted in an experimental animal model of OA a hyaluronan-based scaffold (Hyaff11) seeded with mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) obtained from bone marrow and expanded in culture.
Design: Rabbit knee joints were bilaterally subjected to anterior cruciate ligament transection to surgically induce OA. After 8 weeks, the time necessary to the development of cartilage surface damage, animals were treated with MSCs seeded onto Hyaff-11 scaffold in the left condyle and unseeded Hyaff-11 in the controlateral knee. Untreated rabbits were used as controls. All the animals were sacrificed at 3 and 6 months after surgery. Histological, histomorphometric, and immunohistological evaluations were performed.
Results: OA changes developed in all animals subjected to anterior cruciate ligament transection. The predominant macroscopically observed OA changes were mild (lateral femoral condyle) or moderate (medial femoral condyle) ulcerations. Statistically significant differences in the quality of the regenerated tissue were found between the implants with scaffolds carrying MSCs compared to the scaffold alone or controls in particular at 6 months.
Conclusions: From the observations, it is possible to demonstrate that Hyaff-11, a hyaluronan-based scaffold, has potential for MSC implantation and that may have application for the treatment of early OA in humans.