Multi-million dollar atheletes like Peyton Manning are willing to try anything to get, and keep, their competititve edge and heal faster for the next game. The next frontier in high-tech sports medicine: stem cells.
But since atheletes access to stem cell therapies is restricted in the U.S. outside of carefully controlled clinical trials, players are increasingly traveling abroad to access cutting edge treatments. Notes ESPN:
Thanks to a mix of politics, bureaucratic foot-dragging and scientific caution, American doctors are prohibited from culturing stem cells, let alone culturing them into stages as advanced as their foreign counterparts. Hence Manning's trip abroad. Bradley, a former Penn State defensive back, doesn't mince words. "We're at least 10 years behind the rest of the world," he says.
The 57-year-old doctor should know. In January 2009, after Hines Ward left the AFC championship game with a torn MCL, Bradley administered a form of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, a strange and novel procedure at the time. Placing a sample of Ward's blood in a centrifuge, Bradley isolated the plasma and platelets, which contain natural repair engines, then reinjected the serum into the receiver's injured knee. Ward returned to the field two weeks later for Super Bowl XLIII, a remarkable recovery he and Bradley credit to the procedure. Had the Steeler opted for rest and physical therapy instead, the two say Ward likely would have watched the big game from the sideline.
Whether or not these stem cell procedures are working as advertised - beyond a placebo effect - is open to question. But one thing that seems clear is that the technology will, in fact, pan out sooner or later. And it might be sooner if, instead of banning the process, we worked on collecting more information on what, exactly, these small clinics are doing and whether or not it's working.
That way, rich atheletes would basically be paying - very handsomely - to become the earliest adopters testing cutting-edge medicine, and advancing science at the same time.