Cell-Free Scaffolds as a Monotherapy for Focal Chondral Knee Defects
Chondral knee defects have a limited ability to be repaired. Current surgical interventions have been unable to regenerate articular cartilage with the mechanical properties of native hyaline cartilage. The use of a scaffold-based approach is a potential solution. Scaffolds are often implanted with cells to stimulate cartilage regeneration, but cell-based therapies are associated with additional regulatory restrictions, an additional surgical procedure for cell harvest, time for cell expansion, and the associated costs. To overcome these disadvantages, cell-free scaffolds can be used in isolation allowing native cells to attach over time. This review discusses the optimal properties of scaffolds used for chondral defects, and the evidence for the use of hydrogel scaffolds and hydrogel−synthetic polymer hybrid scaffolds. Preclinical and clinical studies have shown that cell-free scaffolds can support articular cartilage regeneration and have the potential to treat chondral defects. However, there are very few studies in this area and, despite the many biomaterials tested in cell-based scaffolds, most cell-free studies focused on a specific type I collagen scaffold. Future studies on cell-free scaffolds should adopt the modifications made to cell-based scaffolds and replicate them in the clinical setting. More studies are also needed to understand the underlying mechanism of cell-free scaffolds.