Regenexx and Dolphins Quarterback Ryan Tannehill

by Chris Centeno, MD /

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ryan tannehill stem cells

Over the years, our Colorado HQ has treated many professional athletes. Most will sign a picture for our wall of fame, but most are reticent to speak about their injuries. Yesterday, multiple news outlets reported on Ryan Tannehill working with Regenexx. So what gives?

Stem Cells and NFL Athletes

We have treated many NFL and professional athletes throughout the last decade. Most are not interested in speaking publicly about their injuries. Why? Injuries can impact their contract value, so focusing on them is almost never a net positive for a pro. They will, however, usually sign a picture for our wall of fame at our Colorado HQ.

The Media and Ryan Tannehill’s Stem Cells

Regrettably, as is common in the news media, most of the reports of Ryan’s stem cell use to heal injuries are all mixed up. Ryan is the Dolphin’s quarterback and has had a rough two years. In 2016 he injured his ACL during a game and had it treated with stem cells by a famous sports medicine clinic. The procedure was less than successful, and I was asked to look at his knee since I was the one who invented this procedure. At that point, I felt it was unlikely that his knee would heal with another stem cell injection, and he ultimately retore and had ACL reconstruction. Ryan then decided to use his own stem cells at our licensed Grand Cayman site to help multiple injuries that nag him and every other NFL athlete. As a result, he had his stem cells banked.

One of the inaccuracies in the media reporting of Ryan’s stem cell use is that the Grand Cayman site is Regenexx Headquarters. That’s not true, in fact, this is a licensed advanced culture site. Regenexx clinical and research HQ is in Colorado, and we have a division in Des Moines that focuses on corporate contracting.

This Is NOT Enhancement

WADA (the World Anti-doping Agency) has drawn a line in the sand that makes sense for athlete PRP and stem cell use. If these technologies are used to help injuries heal, there are no issues with WADA. If they are used for enhancement, then that’s against WADA policies. So, for example, if Ryan or another athlete uses his cells to help heal his multiple injuries from getting banged up every Sunday, that’s just another medical procedure that is permitted. If an athlete requests stem cells to be injected to make his muscles bigger, that’s not permitted. In all of my years of treating athletes, I have never met one who wanted enhancement. They all just wanted their injuries healed.

What Technology Is Used in Grand Cayman?

The type of stem cell prep we use in the U.S. is also known as bone marrow concentrate. This is when the doctor takes a bone marrow aspirate from the back of the hip, and then machines are used to separate the stem cell fraction, which is then reinjected in the same surgical procedure. While we were the first on earth to use this procedure to treat common orthopedic injuries and were the first to publish on same, just about every sports medicine clinic worth its salt offers this procedure now. In addition, you can also get it at most large, prestigious universities, either through the orthopedic surgery or sports medicine departments.

The procedure Ryan discussed was one involving the culture expansion of his own bone marrow stem cells. In this procedure, the stem cells are isolated just like the same-day procedure, but then they’re grown in culture to higher numbers. They can be used at that point or frozen down in cryopreservation for future use. This is not permitted to be performed here in the U.S. as this country views this as a drug that needs FDA approval. This is why we licensed this technology to a company that is in phase-2 FDA trials here in the U.S. However, in many other countries, growing someone’s stem cells to bigger numbers is not the creation of a new drug, but a medical or surgical procedure no different from growing an embryo for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The Cayman Islands is one of those countries.

Why Would Ryan or Anyone Else Want to Store Stem Cells?

When you store stem cells, they are frozen at your current biologic age. Hence, in some ways, this is insurance against aging. We all get older and don’t heal as quickly, usually due to fewer stem cells in the area. While bone marrow concentrate can fix a good number of those common injuries through precise injection, having your own cells stored would allow you to treat many different areas at once and not have to undergo another bone marrow aspiration.

The upshot? I am proud to have treated Ryan, and I think he’s made a good decision to have his stem cells stored. Like all of us, he’s not getting any younger and unlike almost all of us, he gets beat up every Sunday for a living. He’s not the first NFL athlete who has decided to bank his stem cells, and he won’t be the last.

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Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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