Stem Cell and Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Treatments

Mannie BarlingCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2011

Peyton Manning
Peyton ManningAndy Lyons/Getty Images

Why More Athletes Will Soon Be Going to Europe for Stem Cell Treatments like the NFL’s Peyton Manning and the NBA’s Kobe Bryant

It comes as no surprise that Peyton Manning will undergo stem cell therapy in an effort to avoid another surgery on his neck after Kobe Bryant’s visit to Germany for a similar treatment. While this may be new for athletes, it is not new for celebrities, politicians and the super-wealthy around the world.

There are several different types of stem cells including the controversial use of embryonic stem cells and the use of a person’s own stem cells. Most of the treatments sought by athletes are limited to the use of their own cells.

Thanks to a ban on stem cell research in the U.S., American medicine is ten to fifteen years behind stem cell research in Europe. Now, there are a few American biotech companies who have received approval from the FDA to start clinical trials of embryonic stem cell therapy on humans with spinal cord injuries. But, sadly, U.S. researchers are now decades behind.

The NFL does not prohibit stem cell therapy unless a banned substance such as human growth hormones (HGH) are used as part of the procedure.

In an effort to cut off athletes from embarrassing American medicine, doctors are questioning stem cell and other sports medicine procedures (PRPs), their efficacy, and whether or not introducing substances such as HGH into either procedure will improve the results.

This is a straw man argument. If the treatments are enhanced with HGH, then the drug will show up in tests. These fears will be alleviated with established tests soon to be approved by the NFL and the players union.

Stem cell and platelet-rich plasma therapies are not quick remedies for the sole purpose of returning to competition. They are the correct treatment to regenerate peripheral nerve cells and perform knee surgeries. Ultimately these procedures will become the primary treatment used in the U.S. for everyone, not just athletes.

Stem cell treatments have been available around the world for more than a decade. In Europe, the cost of stem cell procedures is one-tenth of what the cost will be in the U.S. in coming years. In Third World countries, such as Cuba, these treatments are available for less than the cost of two tickets to a sporting event. Many American Latinos have told me how they flew home to a Central American Country to visit their families and then to Cuba to receive treatments as inexpensive at $495. They raved about the results.

Despite the American medical establishment labeling these treatments as either "controversial" or "ineffective", there is a mountain of research, testing and anecdotal evidence around the world to the contrary. European studies confirm that "stem cell treatments regenerate peripheral nerve cells."

There is a sense of arrogance in American medicine that prevents American biotech companies from adopting or using European medical research preferring to do it themselves. American doctors and researchers commonly say:

Kobe Bryant
Kobe BryantChung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

"People go all around the world to get stem cell treatment for arthritis, degenerative disk, hair loss, and think that is the answer. The best treatment for a bulging disk is surgery and physical therapy. Usually a patient can recover in about three months."

The fact that the procedures are not approved in the U.S., and are regarded by many to a developing science, does not negate their effectiveness. Waiting rooms in European clinics are filled with super wealthy Americans, including many owners of professional sports teams.

Consider these examples. Among the celebrities who have benefited from these treatments is Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy, who made a dramatic improvement from a stroke and partial paralysis.

Then there is the story of the wife of a team owner that went to Austria four years ago for stem cell surgery on her knee, after being told by a professional league team physician that she needed two knee replacement surgeries.

The Austrian surgeon removed and cleaned up the damaged cartilage, spent two weeks regrowing it in a petri dish using her own cells and stem cells in a lab, before reinserting it into the damaged area in her knee like a piece from a jig saw puzzle.

It took six weeks of therapy and several months for regrowth but she no longer needed knee transplants. This Austrian doctor (just one of many performing this surgery) has performed more than 1,000 surgeries on injured Alpine skiers. How much more testing is required to satisfy the American medical profession?

Seigfried & Roy
Seigfried & RoyJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

What happens when an Olympic athlete can save their career by seeking treatments in Europe and is denied permission by the U.S. Olympic Committee. You can be certain that Russian, China, German and other European athletes are taking advantage of these treatments. Does that give the Russians, Chinese and Europeans an unfair advantage at the next Olympics in London?

I have observed a number of people go to Germany for these and other stem cell treatments and universally each one improved dramatically. Rather than object to a treatment that will ultimately be the state for the art treatment for sports injuries, cancer and other illnesses, the American sports leagues should not only embrace it, but instead require all of its high profile athletes to obtain stem cell treatment whenever necessary.

It is in the best interests of the league to have stars such as Peyton Manning in the best of health. If stem cell treatments prevent Manning from retiring, the league should adopt it immediately.

In the case of Kobe Bryant, the effect of his stem cell treatments will be immediately evaluated once he takes the court again. His teammate, Derrick Fisher, has already commented on how much quicker and how much higher Bryant can jump since the surgery.

Any medical procedure that improves the health of American sports stars is important to fans who want to see every team healthy and playing with all of its stars. In the case of Manning and Kobe Bryant, if these treatments extend their careers a few more years, American sports fans will be all the better for it.

The bonus is that these treatments may extend careers and reduce the impact of football injuries on retired players, which are the subject of much controversy among players, owners and fans.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.