Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stem cells for Joint Injuries

Stem cells are being used to treat some professional athletes with joint injuries, according to an article in the New York Times. In the still highly experimental procedure, stem cells harvested from the patient’s own bone marrow and fat are injected directly into the patient’s injured shoulder or elbow to try to speed up the repair process. New York Yankees pitcher Bartolo Colon had the procedure done in the Dominican Republic last year, and now he’s back in the Yankee’s starting line-up. Just a year ago his professional career appeared to be over; he sat out the entire 2010 season following elbow surgery.

Mr. Colon’s recovery is anecdotal evidence that the procedure may work. On the other hand, Mr. Colon’s recovery could have been an anomaly or may have been unrelated to the treatment. Clinical trials are now needed to determine whether the procedure would actually benefit most patients. It’s not against the law to try an experimental procedure such as this on patients who are willing to pay for it. But before the procedure is put into widespread general practice, it would be nice to know whether it truly is effective.

Reference: Kovaleski, Serge F. Pitcher's Treatment Draws Scrutiny. The New York Times online, May 11, 2011.

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