Posted on Nov 06, 2018, 5 p.m.
Green Bay Packers 5 time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham has embraced a new treatment, and has shared his story of elite level sports players meeting the cutting edge of science sword, for better or worse.
Graham has elected to try a promising new field of stem cell therapy, specifically an offshoot of stem cells called extracellular vesicles to help treat a torn patellar tendon injury sustained in his right knee in 2015 in which he recovered well enough in 9 months to return to the field but played the 2016 season with significant chronic pain.
Graham has shared an 8 minute testimonial video of his experience for the Wellbeing International Foundation clinic that treated him, but has turned down requests to do interviews about his experience.
When faced with the prospect of having to have addition surgery to address the pain in his knee he began to explore non-surgical stem cell based options even though they have not been approved by the FDA for treating orthopedic injuries in the USA but are available in clinics in other countries carrying an expensive price tag.
First, to minimal benefit, he tried harvesting his own stem cells from his bone marrow to be injected into his knee. Then he found out about EV treatment in Europe deploying stem cell secretions rather than the stem cells themself, and decided as a last ditch effort to give it a try to avoid surgery. For this treatment fat graft was taken from his abdomen in the USA then shipped to a London clinic where the stem cells were isolated and placed in an oxygen deprived environment to induce EV secretion, which may promote healing in damaged tissues; secretions were multiplied in the lab for several weeks then infused into Graham intravenously.
Graham says in the video he was skeptical at first but decided it was worth a shot to avoid surgery. He describes the infusion as taking about 15 minutes, after which he immediately walked back to his hotel and watched a movie. After the movie, for the for time since his injury, he was able to stand up after prolonged sitting and walk pain free. Even still he says he remained wary, knowing the real test would come after his long flight home followed by a hard workout; as he was encouraged by the clinic doctors to immediately resume full activities. His knee pain was one of the main things to prevent him from building up strength in his quadriceps which would help to relieve stress on his knee which he was wanting to do.
Graham goes on to say that the first few week after his treatment he was able to notice a lot of anti-inflammatory effects, such as the top of his knee and patella no longer hurt and he was able to work out, allowing him to go into rehab to really build up his quads, with a pain free knee. He states that his knee has been pain free ever since his treatment, his chronically sore back has also tremendously improved, and scans have shown a slight tear in his other patella has healed as well.
In January 2018 when he made the video he made an appointment to go back to London and receive another EV treatment for the overall well being of his body stating he probably will continue for the rest of his career, suggesting that he is clearly convinced treatment has helped him and was well worth the high price.
A quick search on stem cell therapy will produce a contentious debate among various doctors, researchers, those who have been using them to treat others, and those who have used them. The controversy comes with other stem cell researchers not being at all convinced that stem cells and related treatments have been proven safe, effective, or lasting, at least not yet, these people argue that clinical use is potentially a waste of money at best and dangerous to health at worst; emphasizing that more studies need to be conducted far more thoroughly than single case results, and should be conducted under government regulated standards to determine safety and efficacy.
Both sides of the debate can provide compelling arguments such as EVs and stem cells when taken from the patient’s own body reduce risk of rejection, and IV infusion reduces risk of causing further injury from injections at injury site. However this can be countered with Dr. Victor Khabie’s cases of treated patients sustaining liver and kidney damage after having IV stem cell treatment which was presumably caused by contamination of the stem cells or additives needed for the IV infusion.
Without scientific study and better understandings of long term risk of these types of treatments such debates are likely to continue, and it is still best to use caution. EV stem cells research has shown great promise, enough to establish the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles society and Journal of Extracellular Vesicles. Even the most enthused suggest that EVs should only be used as part of an approved clinical study or when a patient has life threatening illness with no other available options, at least for now.
Applications such as Graham’s may have worked and the improvement may have been based on EVs, says Bernd Giebel, however promising results in the field will lead to unproven dubious therapeutic approaches for which there are no international standards of how to produce them and how to access quality control, making it warranted to advise exercising caution.
Andrew Chancellor, CEO of the Wellbeing International clinic where Graham was treated does no marketing and operates strictly on word of mouth recommendation outside of their website. 40% of their business is on patients with neurological disorders, 40% on professional athletes, and 20% on wealthy people wishing to avoid surgery for injuries. Exact cost of treatment is not known, but based on educated guesses it is estimated to be tens of thousands of dollars if not more. Chancellor says that clinic is the only one to use EVs on patients that he is aware of, but there may be some in China.
For the general public price alone keeps EV types of treatments out of reach except for that small percentage of wealthy; and it is hard to ignore warnings which say that we are probably at best at least 10 years away from EVs becoming approved for treating anything.
However, biologics say taking cells from a person’s own body to manipulate them and then put them back is one of the most promising fields today, which has been called the next horizon in cutting edge anti-aging, regenerative and sports medicines.
Testimonials from those that have had the treatment such as Graham have them sold on the process, regardless of cost or approval. Graham the 31 year old free agent, has gone on to have played well enough to be resigned by the Packers to a 3 year $30 million contract that includes an $11 million signing bonus. For those such as Graham, they don’t want to wait, for them the future is now.
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