September 26, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Stem Cell Sports Medicine 2.0: entering the red zone

What’s the scoop on stem cell sports medicine?

So far the role of stem cells in sports medicine is essentially all hype.

We see sports stars getting stem cell treatments  that are not approved by the FDA and have little if any science behind them.

I covered stem cell sports medicine in an earlier post that provides more background, but things are rapidly getting worse and more dangerous in 2012.

Why are an increasing number of famous people including athletes getting stem cell transplants now?

First, it is human nature to look for a quick fix for what ails us so patients are providing a demand for stem cell therapies even if the technology is not yet ready for prime time. Throw in the fact that some of these people are injured pro athletes whose careers hang in the balance and it is no surprise they are turning to stem cells.

Second, a growing number of folks are trying to make money off of stem cell hype by providing non-FDA approved treatments to desperate patients. These purveyors of dubious stem cell treatments include real doctors, but also people who play doctors on the Internet.

More sports stars than ever are getting stem cell treatments that are not FDA approved and have no science behind them. For example, a new case of stem cell sports medicine involves Oakland Raider Football player Rolando McClain, who reportedly got stem cell therapy for various injuries and according to McClain he “feels a lot better.” How stem cell treatments of this kind could ease pain remains unknown and is not supported by hard, published science.

stem cell sports medicine treatments
Stem cell sports medicine treatment.

Another recent case is that of aging MLB pitcher C.J. Nitkowski (pictured above getting stem cells injected into him; photo credit CNN), who received a stem cell treatment that he hopes will allow him to continue his career. A year or so ago we talked about the case of another stem cell treated MLB pitcher, NY Yankees pitcher Bartolo Colon, who received a stem cell treatment in the Dominican Republican. According to CNN, Nitkowski followed in Colon’s footsteps:

Nitkowski telephoned the doctor who treated Colon and agreed to pay about $3,000 for the procedure.

I wish these guys well and hope that the stem cell treatments they received do not harm them. However, the problems associated with famous people getting stem cell treatments go well beyond the dangers to themselves from the treatments.

When famous people such as sports stars and politicians (e.g. Texas Governor Rick Perry) get such dubious treatments they are absolutely encouraging every day people to get the same treatments, putting a lot more people at risk of not only losing their life savings to pay for the treatments, but also of great injury or even death.

These treatments are not necessarily safe and can be fatal. Each celebrity who gets such a treatment translates into many more everyday people, probably even little league pitchers, getting the same treatments. In essence all of these people are becoming human guinea pigs, part of a huge disorganized experiment without FDA approval.

An important message to the sports stars themselves is that there is absolutely zero reason to believe these treatments will work. I call it trying to win the world series in spring training. In other words, impossible and premature.  If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is and that applies to stem cell sports medicine. I’m a stem cell scientist and I have no vested interest in stem cell sports medicine either way, but let me tell you clearly that right now you have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

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