Optimization and Validation of a Human Ex Vivo Femoral Head Model for Preclinical Cartilage Research and Regenerative Therapies

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OBJECTIVE: Articular cartilage is incapable of effective repair following injury or during osteoarthritis. While there have been developments in cartilage repair technologies, there is a need to advance biologically relevant models for preclinical testing of biomaterial and regenerative therapies. This study describes conditions for the effective ex vivo culture of the whole human femoral head.

DESIGN: Fresh, viable femoral heads were obtained from femoral neck fractures and cultured for up to 10 weeks in (a) Dulbecco’s modified Eagle’s medium (DMEM); (b) DMEM + mixing; (c) DMEM + 10% human serum (HS); (d) DMEM + 10% HS + mixing. The viability, morphology, volume, and density of fluorescently labelled in situ chondrocytes and cartilage surface roughness were assessed by confocal microscopy. Cartilage histology was studied for glycosaminoglycan content using Alcian blue and collagen content using picrosirius red.

RESULTS: Chondrocyte viability remained at >95% in DMEM + 10% HS. In DMEM alone, viability remained high for ~4 weeks and then declined. For the other conditions, superficial zone chondrocyte viability fell to <35% at 10 weeks with deeper zones being relatively unaffected. In DMEM + 10% HS at 10 weeks, the number of chondrocytes possessing cytoplasmic processes increased compared with DMEM (P = 0.017). Alcian blue labeling decreased (P = 0.02) and cartilage thinned (P ≤ 0.05); however, there was no change to surface roughness, chondrocyte density, chondrocyte volume, or picrosirius red labeling (P > 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: In this ex vivo model, chondrocyte viability was maintained in human femoral heads for up to 10 weeks in culture, a novel finding not previously reported. This human model could prove invaluable for the exploration, development, and assessment of preclinical cartilage repair and regenerative therapies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Early online date21 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jun 2020


  • femoral head
  • articular cartilage
  • chondrocytes
  • disuse atrophy
  • phenotype


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