Affiliations: School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK | Department of Bio-Medical Physics and Bio-Engineering, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD, UK
Note:  Corresponding author: D. E. T. Shepherd, Tel: 0121 414 4266; Fax: 0121 414 3958; Email: [email protected]
Abstract: Human synovial joints are remarkable as they can last for a lifetime. However, they can be affected by disease that may lead to destruction of the joint surface. The most common treatment in the advanced stages of joint disease is artificial joint replacement, where the diseased synovial joint is replaced with an artificial implant made from synthetic materials, such as metals and polymers. A new technique for repairing diseased synovial joints is tissue engineering where cells are used to grow replacement tissue. This paper explores the relative merits of synthetic and tissue-engineered implants, using joint replacement as an example. Synthetic joint replacement is a well-established procedure with the advantages of early mobilisation, pain relief and high patient satisfaction. However, synthetic implants are not natural tissues; they can cause adverse reactions to the body and there could be a mismatch in mechanical properties compared to natural tissues. Tissue-engineered implants offer great potential and have major advantages over synthetic implants as they are natural tissue, which should ensure that they are totally biocompatible, have the correct mechanical properties and integrate well with the existing tissue. However, there are still many limitations to be addressed in tissue engineering such as scaling up for production, bioreactor design, appropriate regulation and the potential for disease to attack the new tissue-engineered implant.