Sports Illustrated on Stem Cells…

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sports illustrated stem cells

Interesting article over the weekend on how stem cells in sports medicine are moving more into common use by high level athletes trying to recover quicker. We’ve been at this longer than anyone else in the U.S., so we’ve certainly seen our share of professional athletes and it’s gratifying to see the positive press. The article itself, like most written about this field got some things right and some things wrong, so I thought I’d take readers through it this morning.

First, what it got right was to interview Jim Bradley, team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jim has been using Platelet Rich Plasma as a team physician longer than any other well known sports surgeon I have met. Jim also sits on the NFL Scientific Committee and has done lab research in cartilage repair in a former life, so he knows the area of biologic medicine and stem cells well. He mentioned in the piece that he sends patients overseas and listed some sites where he could send patients. I communicated with Jim over the weekend and he OK’ed me to let readers know that the site he has visited and cleared for his players and the one he sends patients to is the RegenexxCayman facility in Grand Cayman. Why? As he stated in the article, it’s far more advanced than any orthopedic stem cell site operating in the U.S. and it has a decade long safety record with large safety publications.

I think the Sports Illustrated Stem Cells article also got right that stem cells are moving into the decision making matrix of more physicians who see athletes. On the other hand, there were a few errors based on lack of experience in this area. For example, the writer thought that amniotic tissue being sold for injection by many companies contained stem cells. This is incorrect, as the manufacturer’s web-sites makes no such claim. In addition, our lab testing has shown that there are no viable stem cells in these vials, so this is just “bait and switch” marketing by physicians.

The other interesting aspect of the article was to portray Jimmy Andrews as very knowledgeable about stem cells. First, Dr. Andrews is without question a prominent sports surgeon and treats many high level athletes. Having said that, we’ve been using stem cells for orthopedic injuries and publishing about it for a decade and the first time I noticed Dr. Andrew’s involvement in stem cells was a few years ago. Expertise in medicine is directly linked to scientific publications, i.e. an expert in an area has published allot of original research on that topic. Looking at the U.S. National Library of Medicine this morning there are no original publications listed for either Andrews JR nor Hackel JG on stem cells and any orthopedic application involving patient data. There is only one review paper summarizing what others (including our team) have written. On the other hand, it’s good to see that the Andrews Institute is finally planning on opening a lab to get more serious about stem cells.

The upshot? The good news about this article is that it lets people know that the stem cell phenomenon in sports medicine is real and is here. Also, including surgery PRP pioneers like Jim Bradley is great, as Jim knows the science well. I have mixed emotions about featuring Dr. Andrews as being very knowledgeable about stem cells without any clinical publications on the topic. However, if it takes a familiar face to sports writers to have them acknowledge that stem cells are a real clinical phenomenon, then on balance that’s better than the opposite!

The Regenexx-C procedure (cultured stem cell procedure) is not approved by the US FDA and is only offered in countries via license where culture expanded autologous cells are permitted via local regulations. All other Regenexx procedures (SD, SCP, PL) are offered in the U.S. and are fully compliant with US FDA regulations. 

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