Research on mesenchymal stem cells from adipose tissue shows promising results for cell-based therapy in cartilage lesions. In these studies, cells have been isolated, expanded, and differentiated in vitro before transplantation into the damaged cartilage or onto materials used as scaffolds to deliver cells to the impaired area.
The present study employed in vitro assays to investigate the potential of intra-articular injection of microfragmented lipoaspirate as a one-step repair strategy; it aimed to determine whether adipose tissue can act as a scaffold for cells naturally present at their anatomical site. Cultured clusters of lipoaspirate showed a spontaneous outgrowth of cells with a mesenchymal phenotype and with multilineage differentiation potential. Transduction of lipoaspirate clusters by lentiviral vectors expressing GFP evidenced the propensity of the outgrown cells to repopulate fragments of damaged cartilage. On the basis of the results, which showed an induction of proliferation and ECM production of human primary chondrocytes, it was hypothesized that lipoaspirate may play a paracrine role. Moreover, the structure of a floating culture of lipoaspirate, treated for 3 weeks with chondrogenic growth factors, changed: tissue with a high fat component was replaced by a tissue with a lower fat component and connective tissue rich in GAG and in collagen type I, increasing the mechanical strength of the tissue. From these promising in vitro results, it may be speculated that an injectable autologous biologically active scaffold (lipoaspirate), employed intra-articularly, may 1) become a fibrous tissue that provides mechanical support for the load on the damaged cartilage; 2) induce host chondrocytes to proliferate and produce ECM; and 3) provide cells at the site of injury, which could regenerate or repair the damaged or missing cartilage.