The present study established characteristics of tissue regrowth in patients suffering knee lesions treated with grafts of autologous chondrocytes grown on three-dimensional hyaluronic acid biomaterials.
This multicentred study involved a second-look arthroscopy/biopsy, 5 to 33 months post implant (n = 63). Seven patients allowed a third-look biopsy, three of which were performed 18 months post implant. Characteristics of tissues were histologically and histochemically evaluated. The remaining bone stubs were evaluated for cartilage/bone integration. For data analysis, biopsies were further divided into those obtained from postoperative symptomatic patients (n = 41) or from asymptomatic patients (n = 22).
The percentage of hyaline regenerated tissues was significantly greater in biopsies obtained after, versus within, 18 months of implantation. Differences were also observed between symptomatic and asymptomatic patients: reparative tissues taken from symptomatic patients 18 months after grafting were mainly fibrocartilage or mixed (hyaline–fibrocartilage) tissue, while tissues taken from asymptomatic patients were hyaline cartilage in 83% of biopsies. In a small group of asymptomatic patients (n = 3), second-look and third-look biopsies taken 18 months after surgery confirmed maturation of the newly formed tissue over time. Cartilage maturation occurred from the inner regions of the graft, in contact with subchondral bone, towards the periphery of the implant.
The study indicates that, in asymptomatic patients after chondrocyte implantation, regenerated tissue undergoes a process of maturation that in the majority of cases takes longer than 18 months for completion and leads to hyaline tissue and not fibrous cartilage. Persistence of symptoms might reflect the presence of a nonhyaline cartilage repair tissue.