The sustained release of growth factors following their implantation in vivo is essential for successful outcomes in bone tissue engineering. In this study, we evaluated the release kinetics and delivery efficacies of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a potent angiogenic growth factor, incorporated into calcium phosphate bone grafts (BGs). We evaluated the release profile of VEGF from BGs using a novel fluorescence-based retention assay, which revealed that VEGF loaded on BGs can be released in a sustained manner without an initial burst (near zero-order cumulative release) with a controlled release rate of 13.6% per week for up to 7 weeks. In contrast, an ELISA-based release assay showed VEGF to have an early burst-release profile for the first week. However, the biological activity of VEGF released from the BGs was preserved over the 7-week release period, which is consistent with the sustained-release profile observed in the fluorescence-based retention assay. Furthermore, the in vivo bone-forming action of the VEGF-loaded BGs was well demonstrated in a rat subcutaneous model. Taken together, the sustained release of VEGF loaded onto BGs was effective in stimulating proliferation, angiogenesis and osteogenesis, suggesting the ultimate value of VEGF-engineered BGs for bone tissue engineering.

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