Although bone has a high potential to regenerate itself after damage and injury, the efficacious repair of large bone defects resulting from resection, trauma or non-union fractures still requires the implantation of bone grafts. Materials science, in conjunction with biotechnology, can satisfy these needs by developing artificial bones, synthetic substitutes and organ implants. In particular, recent advances in polymer science have provided several innovations, underlying the increasing importance of macromolecules in this field. To address the increasing need for improved bone substitutes, tissue engineering seeks to create synthetic, three-dimensional scaffolds made from polymeric materials, incorporating stem cells and growth factors, to induce new bone tissue formation. Polymeric materials have shown a great affinity for cell transplantation and differentiation and, moreover, their structure can be tuned in order to maintain an adequate mechanical resistance and contemporarily be fully bioresorbable. This review emphasizes recent progress in polymer science that allows relaible polymeric scaffolds to be synthesized for stem cell growth in bone regeneration. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.