Replacement of large tracheal defects remains an unmet clinical need. While recellularization of acellular tracheal grafts appeared to be a viable pathway, evidence from the clinic suggests otherwise. In hindsight, complete removal of chondrocytes and repopulation of the tracheal chondroid matrix to achieve functional tracheal cartilage may have been unrealistic. In contrast, the concept of a hybrid graft whereby the epithelium is removed and the immune-privileged cartilage is preserved is a radically different path with initial reports indicating potential clinical success. Here, we present a novel approach using a double-chamber bioreactor to de-epithelialize tracheal grafts and subsequently repopulate the grafts with exogenous cells. A 3 h treatment with sodium dodecyl sulfate perfused through the inner chamber efficiently removes the majority of the tracheal epithelium while the outer chamber, perfused with growth media, keeps most (68.6 ± 7.3%) of the chondrocyte population viable. De-epithelialized grafts support human bronchial epithelial cell (BEAS-2B) attachment, viability and growth over 7 days. While not without limitations, our approach suggests value in the ultimate use of a chimeric allograft with intact donor cartilage re-epithelialized with recipient-derived epithelium. By adopting a brief and partial decellularization approach, specifically removing the epithelium, we avoid the need for cartilage regeneration.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors declare no competing interests.
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