Baseball’s superstar A-Rod reportedly is deeply ensnared in a scandal involving a small-time anti-aging clinic in Florida, Biogenesis, which helped numerous MLB players dope.
Anti-aging is big business. Some anti-aging clinics push performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), while a growing number of others pitch stem cells. Many sell both. Star athletes are flocking to unproven stem cells like they were a magnet.
Rodriguez supposedly engaged in both PED and stem cell approaches to enhancing his game and now finds himself suspended for the rest of this season (2013) and all of next season. He will appeal.
Apparently the ties of Rodriguez and many other MLB players to Biogenesis may have all come out because of a dispute over a few thousand bucks, pennies compared to his multi-hundred million dollar contract.
In addition to PEDs, Rodriguez is reported (see background here) to have received a stem cell treatment in Germany that may have been part of his efforts to recover from injuries, stay younger, and keep his career going.
Reportedly, A-Rod along with other sports stars and celebs were treated with stem cells by a German doctor in Dusseldorf named Peter Wehling.
According to ESPN:
“Wehling’s treatment involves isolating growth factors and other healing agents in his patient’s blood that stop a particularly destructive arthritic agent known as interleukin-1, which causes degeneration of the joints. After he incubates and supercharges the proteins, Wehling gets a serum that he says is up to 1,000-times higher in the arthritis fighting growth factors than normal blood.”
This so-called “Regenokine” method sounds like a modified form of platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy, perhaps boosted with growth factors and stem cells.
ESPN also reported a very dramatic claim by the doctor: “Wehling claimed to have a 90 percent success rate by genetically screening his patients to personalize their serums.”
Apparently the Yankees gave A-Rod the green light to get the therapy according to ESPN:
The Yankees thoroughly researched that work, and Cashman told reporters this week that “there appeared to be no downside” to having Rodriguez try it.
When it comes to stem cell interventions, the concept of “no downside” or “no risk” is, as many of you know, a dangerous myth.
The treatment described would be unlikely to be allowed here in the US without substantial FDA scrutiny to assure patient safety. However, interestingly, ESPN says that Wehling opened up a new US “outpost” of his clinic almost 2 years ago:
Wehling recently opened an outpost of his clinic in Los Angeles with veteran anti-aging specialist, Chris Renna, and another in New York with neurologist Douglas Schottenstein, who told the New York Post that he’s done more than 50 procedures.
I could find two outposts on the web: one in Santa Monica, CA and one in Dallas, TX.
I wonder what the FDA thinks of these clinics? Does it know about them?
I have not seen any rigorous evidence (e.g. published data or clinical trial results in databases) that these kinds of approaches are safe or effective.
More broadly, the intermingled world of stem cell anti-aging clinics that sometimes also sell PEDs is complicated, but seems to be mainly about making cash. The clients range from the rich and famous to average everyday people, who can ill afford to part with tens of thousands of dollars let alone put their health at risk.
I hope MLB and other sports leagues take non-compliant stem cell use by pro athletes more seriously and just as seriously as PED use. This would benefit the leagues and their athletes as well as the public, which other looks to sports stars for the next fringe medical intervention to try.