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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stem Cells And Soccer

I read an interesting story today in the International Herald Tribune. The author, Bill Pennington, discussed a new technology for the future of sports medicine.

"Doctors and researchers say that in a few years the use of primitive stem cells from infants' umbilical cord blood could grow new knee ligaments or elbow tendons, creating a gene therapy that becomes the vanguard of sports injury repair.

Already, some sports agents are preparing to advise clients about banking stem cells from their offspring or from tissue taken from their own bodies as an insurance policy against a career- ending infirmity. Stem cell blood banks are touting the benefits of stem cell therapies for the practical healing and rehabilitation of tendons, ligaments, muscle and cartilage. There are skeptics in the medical community, but the therapies have enthusiastic advocates as well.

'It's not a pie in the sky notion,' said Dr. Scott Rodeo, an orthopedist and research scientist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. "Maybe it's not going to happen next year, but a three-to-five year horizon is not unreasonable." (1)

I mention this because the article referenced five soccer players in England who have harvested stem cells from their own children.

"With stem cell technology advancing, some are acting now to prepare for the wealth of restorative possibilities. Five professional soccer players had their children's stem cells frozen at birth and stored in a Liverpool stem cell bank, according to an article last year in The Sunday Times of London. One player called the stem cells a potential repair kit for a career-threatening injury.

Of course, stem cell therapies could do more than refurbish joints, they could help build muscle in elite athletes and increase other physical capacities at a pace and proficiency not conventionally attainable." (2)

The debate about stem cells is an emotive one in the United States of America. Embryonic stem cells seem to produce the most discussion. President Bush is against research in this specific area. But in this case, athletes used stem cells from their own children. To provide an insurance policy of sorts for their media advertised "limited amount of years of earning potential." My quote marks. We all have a limited number of years to do our best work, along with no way to anticipate catastrophic events that may impair our earning potential. In or out of the arena.

Cases such as this are interesting and somewhat self-serving. As Mr. Pennington stated in the article, it could lead to athletes to create a pregnancy for their own purposes. In the USA, storing umbilical cord stem cells costs about $3000 per year. For a typical athlete, that is pocket change. Most "cord" cells are used for leukemia and other serious illnesses.

One can debate the ethics to use one's own progeny, potentially, in the high-stakes world of modern sports. I wonder if those five soccer players informed the children about their donation? Stem cell therapy could help millions of people who suffer from the maladies of tragic illnesses such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease. In this case, stem cells were used as an insurance policy for a group of men who earn more in one year than most of us will ever see in a lifetime.


(1 and 2) Sports Medicine Turns to Stem Cell 'Repair Kits.' IHT, 21 March 2007.

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