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  • Are NFL Stars Promoting 'Unproven' Stem Cell Therapies?

    High-profile National Football League (NFL) players "increasingly seek out unproven SC [stem cell] therapies to help accelerate recoveries from injuries," and then make public endorsements of the therapies that imply "a sense of safety and efficacy even when one does not exist," according to an article in the December issue of Stem Cells and Development.

    The article, part of the journal's "recent regulatory insights" section, examines the use of NFL players to promote SC therapies for orthopedic injuries, therapies that authors believe are largely lacking in solid scientific data and peer-reviewed, evidence-based research.

    Authors reviewed SC therapy clinic advertising, online reviews, news articles, and blogs, and identified 12 NFL players who "publicly acknowledged seeking unproven stem cell interventions for injuries," including high-profile players such as Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Owens. "In turn, clinics have been using these players to advertise their procedures by citing this as a common practice of the NFL," they write.

    The article cites the lack of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of SC therapies, most of which fall within an exemption clause because they are "same-day procedures involving minimal manipulation of autologous cells." More complex treatments performed by companies including CellTex and Regenexx were shut down by the FDA because they involved "significant manipulation" of the cells. These kinds of therapies continue in other countries, according to the article.

    Authors write that in addition to the lack of regulatory oversight, the SC therapies used by the NFL players lack good clinical data. "The few peer-reviewed articles [on the treatments] only describe the safety of these procedures, the majority from authors linked to the clinics," authors write. They argue that without regulation and data, "potential patients do not have adequate information to understand the risks associated with the treatments and thus make uninformed decisions."

    This information gap is made worse by the influence wielded by big-name athletes, according to the authors, who write that "further research should be conducted on the use of athletes in the promotion of these ... therapies to determine … if they should be regulated by the government similarly to direct-to-consumer ads for pharmaceuticals."

    In the meantime, the authors recommend that the NFL approach this issue in a way similar to its approach to traumatic brain injury (TBI) over the past few years—by convening expert panels, funding research, and establishing other standards, including whether SC treatments should be labelled "performance-enhancing."

    "By staying abreast of the development of these therapies, the NFL will protect itself and its players by enabling new and beneficial treatments while curbing illegitimate and unsafe usage," they write.

    Want more on the role of stem cell treatments in physical therapy, as well as other advances in technologies that regenerate tissues? Check out APTA's webpage on Regenerative Rehabilitation. Resources include a podcast on "stem cell basics." 


    • I had adipose derived stem cells (ADSC) injected into my knee instead of having torn cartilage removed surgically. It was the best decision! My knee is functional now, I only missed 2 days from work and recovered quickly. I've worked with more than 20 patients who had the ADSC. I've seen some amazing results and they're all glad they did it!

      Posted by Caroline Creager on 12/9/2014 10:22 PM

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