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  • Mmm, Mmm … Good? USA Today Looks at Stem Cell 'Soup' Treatment Among Athletes

    A recent article in USA Today explores how injured professional athletes are developing an appetite for soup—or more precisely "The Soup" and other similar processes that involve injecting stem cells processed from the patient into an injured area. Proponents say it speeds healing and can help patients steer clear of surgery; detractors say it's unproven, unregulated, and maybe illegal.

    Actually, "The Soup" is the brand name of 1 product, described as "a mixture of human cells that includes stem cells derived from a patient's own fat," available "for a minimum price of $15,000," according to USA Today. But The Soup is just 1 approach in what the article describes as an "exploding field" in sports medicine and health care overall, with the number of stem cell clinics in the US quadrupling over the past 5 years to nearly 200.

    USA Today interviewed several athletes who claim that the stem cell therapies allowed them to rapidly heal from injuries such as rotator cuff and tendon tears. Former NFL running back Merril Hoge told USA Today that he received stem cell treatment for a ligament in his elbow that was "50% torn" and was able to avoid "a 6-month rehab process."

    Doctors who administer the treatments are also interviewed for the story, one of whom is quoted as saying that the approach must be effective because professional athletes have so much at stake when seeking treatment. "They're going to do their research—them and their agents," physician Joseph Punta says. "They're not going to do something that's bogus and doesn't work."

    Not so fast, say others in the story—including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has already issued a warning to one manufacturer that the stem cell concoction, even though derived from a patient's own tissues, is in fact a new drug and as such requires proper testing before approval. Other critics contend that regardless of the regulatory issues, there's a lack of research supporting the effectiveness of the treatments.

    The controversy is not new. Last year, researchers published a paper questioning the ways in which professional athletes publicly promote stem cell therapies to imply "a sense of safety and efficacy even when one does not exist."

    Want information 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."

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