Articular cartilage shows little or no intrinsic capacity for repair in response to injury or disease, and even minor lesions or injuries may lead to progressive damage and joint degeneration. Tissue engineering is a relatively new but rapidly growing field that has sought to use combinations of implanted cells, biomaterials, and biologically active molecules to repair or regenerate injured or diseased tissues. Despite many advances, tissue engineers have faced significant challenges in repairing or replacing tissues that serve a predominantly biomechanical function, such as articular cartilage. An evolving discipline termed functional tissue engineering seeks to address these challenges by emphasizing and evaluating the role of biomechanical factors in the intrinsic and engineered repair of tissues and organs. In the current study, the authors describe some of the fundamental issues involving the interaction of biomechanical stresses in vivo and in vitro with native and repair articular cartilage and with other biomechanically functional tissues. A more thorough and formal investigation of these issues may provide a basis for developing rational design principles for tissue engineered replacement or repair of load-bearing structures in the body.

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