The problem of bone regeneration has engaged both physicians and scientists since the beginning of medicine. Not only can bone heal itself following most injuries, but when it does, the regenerated tissue is often indistinguishable from healthy bone. Problems arise, however, when bone does not heal properly, or when new tissue is needed, such as when two vertebrae are required to fuse to stabilize adjacent spine segments. Despite centuries of research, such procedures still require improved therapeutic methods to be devised. Autologous bone harvesting and grafting is currently still the accepted benchmark, despite drawbacks for clinicians and patients that include limited amounts, donor site morbidity, and variable quality. The necessity for an alternative to this “gold standard” has given rise to a bone-graft and substitute industry, with its central conundrum: what is the best way to regenerate bone? In this review, we dissect bone anatomy to summarize our current understanding of its constituents. We then look at how various components have been employed to improve bone regeneration. Evolving strategies for bone regeneration are then considered.
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