Growing concern over athletes receiving unproven stem cell therapies

Elite athletes do whatever it takes to win. Lately, that’s meant getting an injection of their own stem cells.

The treatments, developed over the last eight years, typically involve extracting a small amount of a player’s fat or bone marrow and then injecting it into an injured joint or a strained tendon to encourage tissue regeneration. Bone marrow contains stem cells capable of generating new blood cells, cartilage, and bone.

Although the treatments have become a multimillion-dollar industry, some doctors say there’s only thin medical evidence they actually speed healing. In a report issued last week, public policy researchers at Rice University criticized the National Football League’s role in promoting “unproven” treatments to the public. Some players, including Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Sidney Rice, who’s now retired but won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks last year, have reportedly gone overseas for stem cell treatments and others have acted as spokespeople for U.S. clinics offering them.

Doctors offering the treatments say they’re promising and should be given a chance. Others say there’s not enough data. “Any of these injections have a placebo effect,” says Freddie Fu, an orthopedic surgeon who is chairman of sports medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and top doctor for the school’s sports teams. “We don’t know what we are putting in. We don’t really know what exactly what it does, biologically.”

Orthopedic surgeons hope one day to use stem cells to regenerate cartilage and other lost tissue. But wishful thinking, and profits, have gotten ahead of the facts, says Fu. “There’s a lot of marketing in orthopedics right now. I would say 15 to 20 percent of treatments are not effective,” he says.

Read full, original article: The NFL Has a Problem with Stem Cell Treatments

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