NPR produced an interesting piece on Science Friday on the Bartolo Colon stem cell treatment. The story covered how injecting bone marrow and fat stem cells into Bartolo’s elbow and shoulder helped him make a great come back and enabled him to pitch at an elite level again. Like many of the stories on this topic, it’s very supportive of the basic concept of using stem cells in orthopedics with the Sports Medicine doctors supporting that the science of using stem cells in Bartolo’s shoulder rotator cuff and elbow makes sense. I thought I would highlight this interesting exchange between the science writer and the surgeons, on the ethics of offering “cutting edge” investigational care to patients:
FLATOW: Dr. Lehman, is it ethical to do these things on people if you can’t say to them, you know, this is going to work?
LEHMAN: Well, I think, first of all, it’s ethical if you explain exactly what the technology is, what you’re doing, what the expectations are, and you’re very, very honest with the information that’s out there. So yes, I think it’s ethical.
And in Bartolo Colon’s case, and in many athletes’ cases, there’s really not a whole lot out there for a 37-year-old pitcher who’s pretty much done. So if this is your only shot and the one thing that may make a difference, rotator cuff surgery on a 37-year-old pitcher or any pitcher is probably not going to work all that well. So I think yes, it’s ethical.
And I think as – there are sort of two things. One is Dr. Rodeo is right, the basic science research has to be done. And then I think we need to do clinical research, and that is double-blind studies looking at these patients, the human people, and saying are they really any better than our conventional rotator cuff repairs.
My personal opinion is that they are, and I think our results are better since we’ve been doing it, but again, that’s – what I say isn’t really science until we’ve studied it in a true study.
We would agree with these surgeons that more research needs to be done. We’re doing our part in publishing the following papers (with additional papers in review for publication):
-We have in review for publication an n=339 complications paper with up to a 4 year follow-up as well as an n=250 knee and hip outcome paper in the use of stem cells for knee and hip arthritis