This study demonstrates that polyethylene oxide gels, which are biocompatible and biodegradable synthetic polymers, can be utilized for the encapsulation of isolated chondrocytes and maintenance of three-dimensional spatial support for new tissue development. Chondrocytes isolated from the glenohumeral and humeroradioulnar joints of a calf were added to a 20% polyethylene oxide solution in Ham's F-12 medium to generate a final cellular density of 10 x 106/ml. The polymer-chondrocyte constructs were injected through a 22-gauge needle in 500-μl aliquots subcutaneously in 12 nude mice and incubated for 6 and 12 weeks in vivo. Histologic and biochemical analyses including deoxyribonucleic acid and glycosaminoglycan quantitative analyses confirmed the presence of actively proliferating chondrocytes with production of a well-formed cartilaginous matrix in the transplanted samples. Control specimens from eight implantation sites consisting of chondrocytes alone or polyethylene oxide substrates did not demonstrate any gross or histologic evidence of neocartilage formation. These findings demonstrate the potential use of an injectable and moldable polymer substrate that can support cell proliferation and matrix synthesis after subcutaneous transplantation for neocartilage generation. The rise of functional biologic tissue substitutes may serve as an alternative solution to current methods of augmentation or reconstruction of structural craniofacial contour deformities.
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