When the normal physiologic reaction to fracture does not occur, such as in fracture nonunions or large-scale traumatic bone injury, surgical intervention is warranted. Autografts and allografts represent current strategies for surgical intervention and subsequent bone repair, but each possesses limitations, such as donor-site morbidity with the use of autograft and the risk of disease transmission with the use of allograft. Synthetic bone-graft substitutes, developed in an effort to overcome the inherent limitations of autograft and allograft, represent an alternative strategy. These synthetic graft substitutes, or matrices, are formed from a variety of materials, including natural and synthetic polymers, ceramics, and composites, that are designed to mimic the three-dimensional characteristics of autograft tissue while maintaining viable cell populations. Matrices also act as delivery vehicles for factors, antibiotics, and chemotherapeutic agents, depending on the nature of the injury to be repaired. This intersection of matrices, cells, and therapeutic molecules has collectively been termed tissue engineering. Depending on the specific application of the matrix, certain materials may be more or less well suited to the final structure; these include polymers, ceramics, and composites of the two. Each category is represented by matrices that can form either solid preformed structures or injectable forms that harden in situ. This article discusses the myriad design considerations that are relevant to successful bone repair with tissue-engineered matrices and provides an overview of several manufacturing techniques that allow for the actualization of critical design parameters.
Corresponding author: Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD University of Virginia School of Medicine, 400 Ray C. Hunt Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22908.
E-mail address: Laurencin@virginia.edu