If you follow sports with any regularity, then you’re probably familiar with the almost-mythical name of Dr. James Andrews, who has performed orthopedic surgeries on some of the greatest athletes in the world.
Well, Andrews is pioneering a new treatment method (new to the United States, anyway) that could revolutionize the way doctors treat athletes.
The treatment, in two words: stem cells.
“I think it’s really important that he’s making a push that his facility and his doctors can offer more of these treatments and (do so) more effectively (than others),” Sports Illustrated and MMQB.com NFL writer Jenny Vrentas said on Ferrall on the Bench. “Athletes in all the pro sports leagues respect him. They go to him to get treatment. He sort of wants to be able to offer everything that they’re seeking. Obviously we hear a lot (about) players (going) abroad (for stem-cell treatment),and the laws are a little more lenient abroad for what kinds of stem cells they’re offering.”
“But Andrews is really making a push to do research that really needs to be done to see how these things work, how well they work and what kinds are most effective for what injuries,” Vrentas continued. “There’s a lot of questions out there. I think he feels like maybe these questions should have already been answered, but now he’s leading a push to answer some of them and sort of heal some of these ailments that have long frustrated both doctors and athletes. Cartilage defects, the length of time recovering from surgery, trying to cut that down a little bit – things like that.”
In short, Andrews is taking stem cells from one part of the body and putting them at the site of an injury, which he believes will speed recovery from injury. It is worth noting that these are not embryonic stem cells.
“There’s a lot of debate over the embryonic stem cells – the ones that are taken from discarded embryos at in vitro fertilization clinics,” Vrentas said. “That is what is hotly debated. But this is completely different. We all have these stem cells in our own bodies that spur a healing response, and what doctors are doing is taking them from one part of the body and putting them directly at the injured joint. So the idea is it’s more concentrated and it’s directly at the spot that needs repair. They don’t know 100 percent that these work. They’ve seen results. They’re encouraged by results. The only thing they guarantee their patients is that stem cells are a powerful anti-inflammatory.”
Given Andrews’ reputation, many athletes are willing to give this treatment method a shot.
“I think having his name attached to it certainly is an important thing,” Vrentas said. “These players that go to him trust him to repair their ailments and now he’s offering them another treatment.”
Many athletes, however, do not want their teams to know if they receive this treatment. One, steam-cell healing is still a taboo topic in the United States, and two, players fear that it might suggest a lack of confidence in a certain area of their bodies, which could affect salaries, roster spots and careers.
Vrentas, who has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a master’s in journalism, said that Andrews, who is in his early 70s, is optimistic about his new treatment methods, but he’s also cautious.
“I think he is aware of the possibility of sensationalism,” Vrentas said. “Athletes will try anything to get back on the field faster. Their careers are at stake. Money is at stake, reputations. I think he’s worried about talking about it too much. Because there are so many questions left about how well stem cells work, I think he’s afraid to talk too openly and too publicly and too excitedly about it. I think he wants to make sure that the research matches the excitement and that there’s proof of the sort of things that they’re doing.”