A general principle of stem cell therapy is to exploit the natural ability of the human body to heal through the process of regeneration.
Here, we review the current status of cell therapy based on adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) with emphasis on therapeutic application in bone-related diseases.
The main issues for an effective bone engineering strategy include:
- A sufficient number of bone-forming cells, where cell yield, separation, expansion, commitment, as well as patient age, are all variables to be considered;
- An ECM-like scaffold conductive for and informative to cells, where structural/physico-chemical/mechanical parameters, administration form (injectable or free-form), and degradation rate have to be tuned according to the clinical application;
- Biochemical signals, such as growth factors/cytokines to induce osteogenic differentiation, where the choice between autogenous or exogenous sourcing, dose, timing, etc. are critical;
- An adequate blood supply, provided by angiogenetic factors, pre-vascularization, pre-implant co-culture of vessel and bone progenitors.
We also discuss the safety and efficacy of different approaches, as well as bottlenecks hampering rapid translation of adult MSC therapy from the laboratories to the clinics.
A central paradigm for the effective regeneration of bone tissue is the re-creation at the site of injury of a microenvironment as close as possible to the natural MSC repository in the body. This would allow adult MSC to serve as cellular factories, i.e. to express paracrine activity in situ by secretion of inflammatory and reparative cytokines and to cooperate with other cells.
The results from a wide array of in vitro and in vivo studies, as well as from some clinical trials, are expanding the range of clinical protocols for bone repair, that is the ultimate goal of orthopaedics.