Super Bowl full of stem cells?

NFL stem cells

I like football and for the 2nd year in a row, my favorite team the Seahawks are playing in it after their miracle finish against the Packers.

NFL stem cells

I don’t believe in stem cell miracles for the most part, but I do wonder how many players on the two teams tomorrow have had “stem cell treatments” at some point in their careers for various injuries.

Anyone know?

According to a recent, very important article by Kirstin R.W. Matthews and Maude L. Cuchiara stem cell therapies are quite common amongst NFL players. See Table 1 from their paper above that just shows the players who have publicly acknowledged getting stem cells treatments. Last year’s Seahawks player Sidney Rice apparently had a stem cell therapy.

Given how common stem cells are in the NFL, it’s interesting again to consider how many players in the Super Bowl might have had them.

We also do not know of course whether such stem cell interventions are safe or effective yet because to my knowledge there is no data on how much players have done after their “treatments”. Many so-called “stem cell treatments” may in addition not even involve actual stem cells.

Of course another issue with the NFL and stem cells is one looking to the future when there is hope that evidence-based stem cell treatments may be proven safe and effective for traumatic brain injury, a condition so common amongst ex-NFL players.


  1. I think it is important to differ. Stem cell treatments mean many different medical applications. For example I think nobody believes that PRP is dangerous (I think the only side effect could be an infection and is unsusual).

    So it would be interesting to discuss the different therapies, which one could be dangerous? and which one not?
    Of course the therapies of the NFL-players are no studies, but successful case-reports, because some players will be on the court tonight. There are more examples, if you take a look at Rafael Nadal…
    Do you have more information about the used therapies? I think this would be very interesting.

  2. Hi Paul, I have a somewhat different view of the Matthews and Cuchiara 2014 (MM2014) paper published in Stem Cells and Development.

    The introduction of MM2014 has a lot of guff like “Tens of thousands of patients … [treated for] … ailments — ranging from autism to multiple sclerosis and paralysis — for which no cure exists”. None of the NFL players suffered from these conditions so you might wonder, what’s the point? Well the detour is taken so that they can flap about “one death and a near death in a clinic in Germany”. Of course they don’t tell the reader that that death at that now defunct German clinic had nothing to do with orthopedic treatments that the NFL received. Mark Twain called that sort of deception “the silent lie”.

    MM2014 make one fundamental objection, which is that the orthopedic stem cell treatments are “unproven”. MM2014 claim that there is “a lack of scientific data to adequately defend the therapies.” Let us examine their objection first, and later their claim.

    So what is a “proven treatment”? Well, the first thing that we must understand is that there is no “proof” in science. Proof is something that can only be found in mathematics and logic. Let me give you an example that is both simple and beautiful.

    Euclid proved that there are infinitely many prime numbers. The proof goes like this. First we make the hypothesis that there are only a finite number of prime numbers which we can write as the ordered list of all primes up to P
    2, 3, 5, 7, 11, … ,P
    where P is the biggest prime number. The rules of multiplication and addition enable us to construct a number Q which is the product of the above primes plus 1
    Q= … .P + 1
    We observe that dividing Q by any of the primes in our finite ordered list will leave a remainder of 1. It therefore follows that there must be some other prime that is larger than P (it could be Q itself) which is not in the above ordered list. It follows that our hypothesis is false and so there are an infinity of prime numbers.

    The proof is both obvious and ingenious. It settles a question that is both simple and far reaching. We don’t know for sure that it was Euclid who first proved that there were an infinity of prime numbers but we do know that the matter is “proven” for all time. So long as intelligence persists, the proof will be appreciated. Proponents of Artificial Intelligence might consider that a solid definition of intelligence would be the ability to appreciate this proof.

    I think that what MM2014 mean by “unproven treatment” is that the FDA hasn’t approved it. This has all the concocted logic of

    This brings us to the MM2014 claim that there is a lack scientific data… MM2014 claim lack of safety by citing minimal data which pertains to therapies that have nothing to do with the treatment of the orthopedic therapies applied to the NFL players. It is a principle of science that you don’t just select out data that supports your case. You also look for the contrary evidence. Yet MM2014 do not discuss (or even cite) numerous publications that indicate safety of some of these procedures. Here, we have to be careful. Not all doctors are equal and not all stem cell clinics are equal. But MM2014 does single out Regenexx as a particular clinic of interest to them. They should therefore, at the very least, have cited at least one of the safety studies published by that clinic:
    And there are studies published by others…

    As for efficacy, there are numerous studies (a handful by Regenexx) showing that MSC can be helpful to injuries to joints, tendons, muscles and cartilage. Everyone knows that these therapies are still very much a work in progress and the decent stem cell clinics make this very clear. There are many ongoing clinical trials. Some are “free-to-patient trials” even though they are done by “for profit stem cell clinics”. A nuance that detractors conveniently ignore!

    But let us consider the (unproven) possibility that stem cell treatment of NFL muscle/joint injuries are ineffective. The treatments then become a placebo. Believe it or not, a placebo treatment can actually be a lot less harmful than many of the standard surgical options. Consider, for example, a damaged meniscus in the knee. For many years (even now) the standard of care was to surgically slice bits off the meniscus: “If in doubt, cut it out”. The earliest publication that I could find that clearly demonstrated that this is a harmful treatment (it caused arthritis) was published by Fairbank (1948) in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. Since then there have been additional publications that arrive at the same conclusion, but this barbaric practice still happens! Please, I’ll take the placebo!

    MM2014 promote a view by ignoring evidence that is not favourable to their argument. This may pass for polemics but it is not science…

    The real issue is that competitive sport damages your health:

  3. “As for efficacy, there are numerous studies (a handful by Regenexx) showing that MSC can be helpful to injuries to joints, tendons, muscles and cartilage.”
    Exactly about this point I would like to get more information. I would like to know, which stem-cell-therapy seems to be successful and which ones seem to be a too big risk? Because if you take for example a look an Rafael Nadal, he was healed by stem-cell-applications and so everyone could think, “who heals is right”.
    So it would be a big help, if you or other experts could make such a list or discuss the different stem-cell-therapies in detail. Because I think it makes a big difference concerning the risks, if you treat for example one joint with stem cells or the whole body.
    If I would begin a list, I would say PRP fore example seems to work well and seems to be safe…

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