Bartolo, Stem Cells, and the Research Community
The Bartolo Colon stem cells story has been interesting in that it shows the dichotomy between the demonizing of adult stem cell use by the research community vs. the sudden acceptance of this therapy in the sports world. Take for example a flurry of recent stories that have demonized adult stem cell use outside of clinical trials vs. this recent story asking us all to accept that the use of stem cells in athletes is exploding and will continue to expand in the next few years. Why the the stem cell black hat from the researchers vs. the stem cell white hat from the sports writers? First, most Americans fail to realize that research itself is a business. We all want more research, however, in the world of stem cells with >14,000 published papers on mesenchymal stem cells alone, the “research to produce cures” slot machine is broken. What does this mean? Society views medical research as a big slot machine. We all put coins up at the top in the form our our taxes, medical insurance payments, and Medicare dollars and the machine sometimes pays off big in terms of new groundbreaking cures. However, in the case of stem cell research, we’re all putting way too much of society’s limited resources in the machine without the regular big payoffs. In addition, in the defense of the media, many of these black hat stem cell stories are in fact important, as they point to examples of really bad medicine. Since the use of stem cells or any other body part is the practice of medicine, then there will always be good medicine and bad. On the other side of this coin are the sports writers that have come to the defense of stem cells used in athletes. These stories have pointed out that there’s nothing new about the use of stem cell in orthopedics. To the contrary, procedures like micro fracture surgery have depended on stem cells to regrow lost cartilage for decades. The sports writers tend to point out that the use of stem cells for orthopedic injuries is just the next logical extension of a quiet revolution that’s been happening in sports for decades-less invasive procedures with faster recovery. The upshot? The stem cell tidal wave is here to stay and we for one wholeheartedly support the sportswriters in their quest to make us understand stem cells rather than make us afraid of stem cells.