Recent research has been focusing on the generation of living personalized osteochondral constructs for joint repair. Native articular cartilage has a zonal structure, which is not reflected in current constructs and which may be a cause of the frequent failure of these repair attempts. Therefore, we investigated the performance of a composite implant that further reflects the zonal distribution of cellular component both in vitro and in vivo in a long-term equine model. Constructs constituted of a 3D-printed poly(-caprolactone) (PCL) bone anchor from which reinforcing fibers protruded into the chondral part of the construct over which two layers of a thiol-ene cross-linkable hyaluronic acid/poly(glycidol) hybrid hydrogel (HA-SH/P(AGE-co-G)) were fabricated. The top layer contained Articular Cartilage Progenitor Cells (ACPCs) derived from the superficial layer of native cartilage tissue, the bottom layer contained mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). The chondral part of control constructs were homogeneously filled with MSCs. After six months in vivo, microtomography revealed significant bone growth into the anchor. Histologically, there was only limited production of cartilage-like tissue (despite persistency of hydrogel) both in zonal and non-zonal constructs. There were no differences in histological scoring; however, the repair tissue was significantly stiffer in defects repaired with zonal constructs. The sub-optimal quality of the repair tissue may be related to several factors, including early loss of implanted cells, or inappropriate degradation rate of the hydrogel. Nonetheless, this approach may be promising and research into further tailoring of biomaterials and of construct characteristics seems warranted.
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