The degenerative pathologies of the intervertebral disc have a remarkable social impact in the industrialized countries and can provide serious disabilities in the population. The current treatment consists of conservative treatments (such as symptomatic pharmacological therapies and physiokinetic therapy) and surgical treatments (intervertebral fusion, total disc replacement, nucleus pulposus (NP) replacement, or surgical exeresis). Recent advances in cell therapy foresee the possibility of regenerating the damaged disc; the autologous disc tissue can be withdrawn, in vitro regenerated, and re-implanted. The aim of this work was to verify whether autologous adipose-derived adult stem cells can improve the quality of an in vitro reconstructed nucleus pulposus tissue. A three-dimensional (3D) co-culture of NP cells and adipose tissue non-adipocyte fraction cells (nAFs) was assessed in a previously developed alginate 3D culture system following the good manufacturing practice guidelines to ensure patient safety for clinical studies. Morphological investigation of cultured and co-cultured cells was performed using transmission electron microscopy and immunofluorescence for collagen type I, aggrecan, CD90, CD34, and vimentin. Results indicate that co-culture of NP and nAFs improves the quality of the in vitro reconstructed tissue in term of extracellular matrix production and 3D cell organization. Technological resources are available for NP cell encapsulation intended for regenerating the intervertebral disc.
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