Jan 29, 2015
Traveling Abroad For Treatment

By Mike Phelps

Recently, two prominent NFL players–Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and free agent wide receiver Terrell Owens–reportedly flew overseas to receive stem cell treatments for their respective injuries. The news garnered significant interest stateside, where stem cell procedures are not yet approved.

While neither the Colts nor Manning confirmed that the procedure took place, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported that the quarterback traveled to Europe to seek treatment for his injured neck. Manning has yet to play in a game this season, but has not yet been placed on injured reserve. According to Glazer, the therapy involved taking fat cells from another part of Manning’s body to assist the regeneration of the nerve area around his neck.

“I’ve learned that before his last surgery, Peyton Manning actually took a private jet out to Europe to get stem cell therapy,” Glazer said on air during Fox’s NFL pregame show, according to the Sporting News. “It’s a therapy that is not yet approved in America just to take that extra step to try to get back and heal his neck.”

Owens, meanwhile, traveled to Korea to undergo a procedure to help repair his injured knee. The receiver, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals last season, is attempting to recover and sign with a new NFL team at some point this season.

According to the Korea Times, as part of the treatment, Owens had stem cells collected at the Chaum Anti-Aging Center. He was reportedly referred to Chaum by the famed Dr. James Andrews of Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

“Mr. Owens starts with therapy Monday followed by the collecting and storing of his stem cells the next day,” Dr. Lee Jung-no, President of Chaum, told the Times. “We do have our branch hospital in the United States, and Dr. Andrews advised Owens to contact it first, which then led him to visit our office here.”

Despite the two high-profile treatments, many doctors caution against undergoing stem cell procedures. While they are based on concepts that the American medical community believes have potential, they are unregulated and not confirmed to work. They could also have serious side effects.

“The best way to repair the neck is to take the pressure off the nerve,” Dr. Rick Sasso of the Indiana Spine Group told TheIndyChannel.com of Manning’s injury. “There’s zero data, none, that supports repairing a degenerative disc with stem cells. What upsets me is people are going to think this is going to work.”

“While stem cell treatments have been shown to have significant placebo effects during controlled clinical trials, I think patients considering unregulated stem cell treatments need to be aware that they are not optimized and may even do harm,” Jeffrey Karp, Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Biomaterials and Stem-Cell-Based Therapeutics at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., told CNN.

But that doesn’t mean the procedures can’t work. Studies have shown that stem cells can decrease inflammation and regenerate nerve cells and bone growth.

“If the cells were used in the context of (Manning’s) bone fusion procedure, the cells could very clearly enhance bone formation and enhance the rate of fusion,” Dr. Keith March of the Indiana University School of Medicine told TheIndyChannel.com. “I think there’s a good chance that it could have some clear biological effect.”

Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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