Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine have significant potential to treat bone pathologies by exploiting the capacity for bone progenitors to grow and produce tissue constituents under specific biochemical and physical conditions. However, conventional tissue engineering approaches, which combine stem cells with biomaterial scaffolds, are limited as the constructs often degrade, due to a lack of vascularization, and lack the mechanical integrity to fulfill load bearing functions, and as such are not yet widely used for clinical treatment of large bone defects. Recent studies have proposed that in vitro tissue engineering approaches should strive to simulate in vivo bone developmental processes and, thereby, imitate natural factors governing cell differentiation and matrix production, following the paradigm recently defined as "developmental engineering." Although developmental engineering strategies have been recently developed that mimic specific aspects of the endochondral ossification bone formation process, these findings are not widely understood. Moreover, a critical comparison of these approaches to standard biomaterial-based bone tissue engineering has not yet been undertaken. For that reason, this article presents noteworthy experimental findings from researchers focusing on developing an endochondral-based developmental engineering strategy for bone tissue regeneration. These studies have established that in vitro approaches, which mimic certain aspects of the endochondral ossification process, namely the formation of the cartilage template and the vascularization of the cartilage template, can promote mineralization and vascularization to a certain extent both in vitro and in vivo. Finally, this article outlines specific experimental challenges that must be overcome to further exploit the biology of endochondral ossification and provide a tissue engineering construct for clinical treatment of large bone/nonunion defects and obviate the need for bone tissue graft.
Keywords: 3D cell culture; bone; mesenchymal stem cells; tissue development and growth.