In a New York Times article by Bill Pennington published on March 20, 2007, the author notes that the stem cell leap to help heal professional athletes and weekend warriors alike may sound like science fiction, but it could transform sports medicine. In the article, several prominent physicians discussed their views on stem cell therapy.
Dr. Scott Rodeo, an orthopedist and research scientist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, states “It is not a pie-in-the-sky notion… Maybe it (stem cell therapy) is not going to happen next year, but a 3 to 5-year horizon is not impossible.”
Dr. Rodeo has practiced these technologies in the laboratory setting on animals, and he notes “in each case, stem cells clearly have some beneficial role in inducing tissue regeneration.”
Dr. Rodeo is also a physician for the New York Giants football team and a former United States Olympic Team Doctor.
Dr. Johnny Huard, director of the Stem Cell Research Center for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and a leading gene therapy researcher, views the ability of having a readily available supply of stem cells that may be obtained from a child aged 5 to 6 obtained through a muscle or fat biopsy, and then storing these stem cells would be enormously valuable. Dr. Huard relates that the practical use may be years away for these stem cells, but he envisions that this is the future of sports medicine.
Dr. Huard states that he has met with doping officials who are trying to prepare for this new technology. It was suggested that tests should be made available to determine allogeneic (someone else’s stem cells) versus autologous (one’s own stem cells).
According to Dr. Huard, ”this may be impossible to carry out, especially as the cells are injected directly into the patient. However, the fact that sports officials are looking into this is a clear indication of the unease of certain individuals in the realm of stem cell therapy.”
Dr. Huard points out that he does not think that stem cells could turn a bad athlete into a super athlete, but could it provide enough of an edge to turn an Olympic silver medal winner into an Olympic gold medal winner? Dr. Huard states that he thinks it could.
Dr. Regis O’Keefe, who directs musculoskeletal research at the University of Rochester Medical Center, notes that there may be a potential benefit to utilizing the stem cells.
“However, it is going to take years of clinical trials to acquire the scientific knowledge to know if this is better than the current alternatives,”
Dr. Freddie Fu, chairman of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, agrees that safety questions and side effects need to be addressed.
Five professional soccer players had their children’s stem cells frozen at birth, and then the stem cells were stored in a Liverpool stem cell bank as reported in the Sunday Times of London. In this Times report, one player called the stem cells a repair kit for a career-threatening injury.
Leigh Steinberg, a highly respected sports agent, conceives that top sport stars may vigorously pursue any orthopedic technological breakthrough. Steinberg states that advising clients to bank their offspring’s umbilical cord stem cells may be insurance for the future. Steinberg notes that when his own children were born, he banked their umbilical cord stem cells.
Dr. Robert Hariri, a founder of LifebankUSA, reports that their stem cell bank does include people with athletic backgrounds. The cost is approximately $2700, plus $250 a year to store umbilical cord blood and placental cells.
Dr. Dennis Lox, a regenerative medicine specialist in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, notes that athletic circles are interested in applicable medical technology breakthroughs and greet them with great fascination.
Dr. Lox notes that, “recently there has been great interest in platelet-rich plasma in professional athletes from a variety of sports disciplines, including top-caliber athletes. Incorporating platelet-rich plasma with stem cell therapy is a natural progression.”
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Dennis M. Lox, M.D. is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Since 1990, he has used sports medicine techiques and cutting-edge technology to help heal musculoskeletal injuries and relieve pain.