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A recent Wired article discussed NY Yankees pitcher, Bartolo Colon, and his resurgence as a Major League powerhouse after injury and age had taken a toll on Colon’s right shoulder. The 38-year old is back, Wired reports, because he underwent an experimental procedure in his home country of the Dominican Republic during which “fat and bone-marrow stem cells were extracted from Colon and then re-injected into his elbow and shoulder, a move designed to help regenerate and repair tissue—including his rotator cuff, which had been torn.”
Stem cell research came under fire in 2009 when the FDA approved the first human clinical trials using embryonic stem cells—cells extracted from human embryos that are only a few days old—to treat genetic diseases, degenerative conditions and physical trauma. But the stem cells used to repair Colon’s rotator cuff—the group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder—were Colon’s own.
Stem cells, according to Stem Cell Research News, a website devoted to news about usages and the science behind stem cells, “can grow into any one of the body’s more than 200 cell types” including heart muscle cells brain cells and skin cells. While embryonic stem cells can, indeed, turn into any type of cell, adult stem cells, taken from the tissue of live human beings, can only become the cell type of their tissue of origin. “The primary roles of adult stem cells in a living organism are to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
An orthopedic surgeon on Colon’s medical team told the New York Times that Colon’s stem cell treatment is the future of sports medicine. Proof? Colon is now back to pitching 95 mph fastballs. But skeptics aren’t so sure Colon’s miraculous repair is all due to stem cell therapy. SI.com’s Will Carroll wonders if Colon had surgery on his rotator cuff in addition to the stem cell therapy.
So before you, the injured runner, go hunting down one of only a handful of doctors who are currently using stem cells to treat injuries, maybe you should wait to find out the whole story behind Colon’s recovery. But the future of adult stem cell treatment is looking good.
A 2010 study published in the journal “Biomaterials” found that injecting adult stem cells into an injury site is a way to augment the body’s natural healing response. The study’s authors recommend it as an alternative to other musculoskeletal injury therapies that pose greater risk to the body.