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Stem cell spread: Four jocks and a cheerleader

Rick Perry.jpgRetired football star Terrell Owens has been in the papers recently for what appears to have been a drug overdose. It was the culmination of a desperate year that included an attempt to revive his career with stem cells. He received the treatment on his knee in Korea in September.

Owens is the latest in a string of high-profile sports celebrities to undergo unproven stem cell treatments in an attempt to extend their careers. Also in September, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning had his neck treated with stem cells in Europe. Last year, former New England Patriots lineman Jarvis Green had stem cell treatment in Colorado. In April 2010, New York Yankees pitcher Bartolo Colon underwent a stem cell procedure in the Dominican Republic. And while perhaps not a sports celebrity trying to extend his career, former Texas A&M cheerleader, current Texas governor, and republican presidential candidate Rick Perry (pictured) underwent a stem cell treatment in June to fix his back.

Both Green and Perry say the stem cells worked. It’s debated whether Colon’s comeback was thanks to the stem cells or to his “determination".

For the others — well, Perry too for that matter — it would be too early to judge effectiveness even under the most optimistic stem cell regeneration scenarios. But there’s a good chance they’ll come to be advertised as successful.

The problem is that there is no evidence — of the sort that anyone with a scientific turn of mind would like to see — that any of these treatments work. And the legality of the procedure is being contested. Moreover there are some concerns over the safety of stem cell treatments — a few patients have died following such procedures, though it has not been possible to definitively link the deaths to the procedures.

But even as the procedures are unproven, unapproved, possibly unsafe and illegal, their popularity is spreading. Frequent reports of treatments by stars are reinforcing the idea that this is the thing to do. With that routineness, the real danger, according to some commentators, is that stem cells themselves may come to be looked on as powerless quack cures. Once they are scorned as disreputable technologies, scientists doing real clinical and basic research with stem cells might find doors being closed, says Doug Sipp, who studies the regulation and use of stem cells in the clinic at the Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan. “Despite having a real scientific basis, stem cells could come to be seen as no more effective than Power Balance bands,” says Sipp.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Report this comment

    Paul Knoepfler said:

    I’m afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Stem cell scientists are very worried about the people who can be hurt by these dubious treatments. This new trend may also hurt the stem cell field.

    One hopeful trend is the sense that the FBI and FDA are becoming more assertive within the U.S., but there’s a whole world out there where celebs seem to be going as well for these dangerous treatments.

    Check out my top 10 list of easy to understand facts for patients:


  2. Report this comment

    Paul Knoepfler said:

    This troubling issue was at the forefront of discussion by scientists and patient advocates at the recent World Stem Cell Summit. What everyone is hoping is that the FDA and FBI continue their aggressive pursuit of those selling dubious stem cell treatments in the U.S., but if famous people get treatments whether here in the U.S. or elsewhere, regular people are going to follow suit for sure.


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    Tim Roberts said:

    What sort of stem cells are we talking about? Not Hesc, presumably.

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