Sanford Health a history of innovating and leading the way in new research.
Something that grabbed the attention of the NFL Alumni Association.
The NFL Alumni Association is a non-profit that looks to support retired NFL athletes and cheerleaders after their initial careers are over.
Because of the strenuous activity put on their bodies, many athletes walk away from the sport with nagging injuries — without the option for care. This has led the NFL Alumni to seek out innovators in the world of health care.
Recently, Dr. David Pearce, Sanford Health president for innovation, research and World Clinic, spoke on regenerative medicine at a congressional briefing. His expertise prompted Kyle Richardson and Billy Davis, co-directors of health care initiatives for the NFL Alumni Association, to inquire about regenerative medicine and how it may serve retired athletes.
What is regenerative medicine?
As Dr. Pearce told Sanford Health News, “it’s a complicated term,” but regenerative medicine is essentially about healing. Dr. Pearce explains that regenerative healing takes something from your own body to heal a wound or an injury.
“I’m going to give you an example: if you cut yourself right now, it heals, right? The components within your body have the ability to heal an injury, such as a cut. If we twist our ankle and we get swelling, our body reacts and heals that injury. Regenerative medicine is about accelerating that healing — so, taking a component of your body, and accelerating that healing and making it better.”
Not only for retired athletes, this form of therapy could benefit everyone as they age.
“As we get older, we start to deteriorate. So, we can harness our own body to maybe take some of those components that would be used to fix an injury to actually slow down the aging process and the wear and tear on joints, partiucularly in orthopedics.
“That’s one of the highlighted areas that we are studying right now. As your knees grind away and you get arthritis, regenerative medicine is about taking some of those healing components to help regenerate and slow down that process, to heal those aches and pains,” said Dr. Pearce.
Misconceptions about stem cells
Tiffany Facile is a research development partner at Sanford Health, and soon-to-be director of regenerative medicine at Sanford Health.
She says it’s imperative this medicine develops through the science of clinical trials.
“Some common misconceptions are that regenerative medicine therapies are risky. There is some risk to procedures when using autologous or your own cells, but studies that are currently running should reduce the safety concerns.”
Dr. Pearce echos Facile, warning of “bad actors” who offer products which have no regenerative capacity.
He says there’s also a misconception associated with these therapies because they’re not approved by the FDA. However, Sanford Health’s clinical trials have been approved.
“What we’re doing at Sanford, is we’re taking those components of the body, working with the FDA and saying, ‘it’s safe to do this.’ Our early work in a clinical study has demonstrated safety and efficacy with rotator cuff injuries. We’re having remarkable results in terms of treating some of these injuries.”
Another misconception revolves around stem cells. Both Facile and Dr. Pearce say regenerative medicine has not yet determined if stem cells in your body have the ability to signal other cells for repair.
“We hear about embryonic stem cells and fetal stem cells; we don’t do anything with that. First of all, it’s not very ethical. Secondly, there’s no science to show that they can have regenerative capabilities,” said Dr. Pearce.
Uses of regenerative medicine
Dr. Pearce says regenerative medicine can be used to heal nagging injuries, whether it’s for athletes or not.
“Right now we’re taking cells from around the fat of your abdomen region, which is rich in a type of stem cell called adipose derived regenerative cells, and we’re relocating them to help heal rotator cuff tears, help to heal osteoarthritis in the knee, elbow, wrist, ankle, and hip,” he said.
Dr. Pearce says they’re doing this research, “under the auspices of what we call a clinical trial, and where we follow patients to hopefully demonstrate safety and efficacy.”
“Because of the misconceptions surrounding this form of medicine, we have to do this right, because it’s not a regulated industry just yet. The food and drug administration oversees what we’re doing with respect to that.
“We know that we can help heal damaged heart cells. We know we can help healing cells that have been damaged by a stroke. We’re already taking the next step in working on those protocols where we can do some trials and look to see if we can heal other injuries in the body. These cells have the ability to heal anything in the body, if directed in the right way,” said Dr. Pearce.
Orthopedics and regenerative medicine
Dr. Pearce says Sanford Health is the first health system in the nation to get approval for the use of regenerative medicine in treating orthopedic injuries.
“We’re hoping to be a leader not just in the Midwest, we’re hoping to be a leader nationally, where we can teach other health systems how to administer these treatments by either going there and training people, or us becoming really a hub for that.”
As for the future of regenerative medicine, Dr. Pearce says it could have an impact in how quickly athletes recover from injuries.
“I think for athletes that return to play, this will have a huge impact in terms of how we can help people turn around. More importantly, as they retire, we know there’s a lot of grinding and wear and tear on their bodies. We’ll be able to manage that much more appropriately,” said Dr. Pearce.
This form of medicine can also help non-athletes manage any nagging aches and pains.
“For those who’ve got some aches and pains here and there, we’ll be able to use this to really alleviate some of the pain and aches we have, and manage that much better.”
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