WILL STEM CELLS REPLACE STEROIDS IN SPORTS?

Introduction:

SF Chronicle writer Maria Cheng recently wrote an fascinating article on stem cells possibly replacing steroids in the sports arena.  Below are excerpts from that article.

Stem cells (pictured above) have much more than the potential to cure disease and save lives.  They may also be able to heal injuries, boost strength and endurance and provide a lasting edge over the competition.

Could stem cells be the next frontier for doping in sports?  They very well may be.

According to Paul Griffiths, managing director of "CryoGenesis International," "There's a spin-off technology from stem cells that could produce super-athletes."

He believes that injecting stem cells into healthy muscles might increase the size and even restore them to their youthful capacity.

"You could potentially find a 40-year-old man with 20-year-old legs."

While such applications could be years away, their potential use raises more ethical questions about doping in sports.  Like gene doping, which involves transferring genes into human cells to blend directly into an athlete's DNA, it is thought than an athletes stem cells could be injected back into the body.  The regenerative powers of stem cells offer countless sporting possibilities, such as increasing endurance, speed, flexibility and strength.

Griffith's company counts five professional soccer players as clients who have frozen stem cells from their children's umbilical cords in their bank.

Experimental studies in the United States found that stem cells successfully regenerated all the ligaments in the knees of goats-their knee structure is believed to be similar to that of humans-within 12 weeks.  Were such techniques possible in humans, athletes would certainly have reason to be tempted.

Griffith's adds, "Even if it meant only an extra four or five years in their career, for an athlete, that could mean millions."

Still, stem cell experts note that such technologies are years away from being routinely available.

Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge says, "If you inject more stem cells into a healthy muscle, it might not necessarily do a lot."

The process of using stem cells to strengthen muscles will probably not be as straightforward as a simple injection.  Desired tissues might need to be first engineered in a laboratory before being implanted into athletes.  Years of clinical experience would also be necessary to determine if such a process would be safe and effective.

Source: Maria Cheng @ The San Francisco Chronicle

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