Emergence of scaffold-free approaches for tissue engineering musculoskeletal cartilages

Ann Biomed Eng. 2015 Mar;43(3):543-54. doi: 10.1007/s10439-014-1161-y. Epub 2014 Oct 21.


This review explores scaffold-free methods as an additional paradigm for tissue engineering. Musculoskeletal cartilages-for example articular cartilage, meniscus, temporomandibular joint disc, and intervertebral disc-are characterized by low vascularity and cellularity, and are amenable to scaffold-free tissue engineering approaches. Scaffold-free approaches, particularly the self-assembling process, mimic elements of developmental processes underlying these tissues. Discussed are various scaffold-free approaches for musculoskeletal cartilage tissue engineering, such as cell sheet engineering, aggregation, and the self-assembling process, as well as the availability and variety of cells used. Immunological considerations are of particular importance as engineered tissues are frequently of allogeneic, if not xenogeneic, origin. Factors that enhance the matrix production and mechanical properties of these engineered cartilages are also reviewed, as the fabrication of biomimetically suitable tissues is necessary to replicate function and ensure graft survival in vivo. The concept of combining scaffold-free and scaffold-based tissue engineering methods to address clinical needs is also discussed. Inasmuch as scaffold-based musculoskeletal tissue engineering approaches have been employed as a paradigm to generate engineered cartilages with appropriate functional properties, scaffold-free approaches are emerging as promising elements of a translational pathway not only for musculoskeletal cartilages but for other tissues as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cartilage*
  • Humans
  • Tissue Engineering*