Purpose: This study evaluated intra-articular injection of bone marrow–derived mesenchymal stem cells (BMSCs) to augment healing with microfracture compared with microfracture alone.
Methods: Ten horses (aged 2.5 to 5 years) had 1-cm2 defects arthroscopically created on both medial femoral condyles of the stifle joint (analogous to the human knee). Defects were debrided to subchondral bone followed by microfracture. One month later, 1 randomly selected medial femorotibial joint in each horse received an intra-articular injection of either 2006 BMSCs with 22 mg of hyaluronan or 22 mg of hyaluronan alone. Horses were confined for 4 months, with hand walking commencing at 2 weeks and then increasing in duration and intensity. At 4 months, horses were subjected to strenuous treadmill exercise simulating race training until completion of the study at 12 months. Horses underwent musculoskeletal and radiographic examinations bimonthly and second-look arthroscopy at 6 months. Horses were euthanized 12 months after the defects were made, and the affected joints underwent magnetic resonance imaging and gross, histologic, histomorphometric, immunohistochemical, and biochemical examinations.
Results: Although there was no evidence of any clinically significant improvement in the joints injected with BMSCs, arthroscopic and gross evaluation confirmed a significant increase in repair tissue firmness and a trend for better overall repair tissue quality (cumulative score of all arthroscopic and gross grading criteria) in BMSC-treated joints. Immunohistochemical analysis showed significantly greater levels of aggrecan in repair tissue treated with BMSC injection. There were no other significant treatment effects.
Conclusions: Although there was no significant difference clinically or histologically in the 2 groups, this study confirms that intra-articular BMSCs enhance cartilage repair quality with increased aggrecan content and tissue firmness.
Clinical Relevance: Clinical use of BMSCs in conjunction with microfracture of cartilage defects may be potentially beneficial.