Stem Cell Controversy Hits Major League Baseball

May 13, 2011

Yankees' pitcher Bartolo Colon has resurrected his career with the help of a disputed therapy involving stem cell injections.

For those of you who are not avid baseball (or Yankees) enthusiasts, Bartolo Colon is an ex Cy Young Award winner (given to the best pitcher in each league each year) whose career fell by the wayside after battling various injuries after the 2005 season. In fact, Colon did not even pitch at all last season after undergoing elbow surgery. In short, his decline in production and increase in age was pointing to the end of his career.

But somehow he wowed enough people in the Yankee organization this past offseason to get an invite to spring training, and then a $900,000 contract thereafter. The move is proving to be a success story for the Yankees, as Colon is having an impressive season so far. Earlier this week, reporters broke a story that might provide some valuable insight into this amazing turnaround, while simultaneously creating another huge headache for Major League Baseball, an organization that has already been the center of several controversies around performance enhancing drugs.

From the New York Times:

Joseph R. Purita, an orthopedic surgeon who runs a regenerative medicine clinic in Boca Raton, said he and a team of Dominican doctors that he led treated Colon in April 2010. Purita said he employed what he regards as one of his more pioneering techniques: he used fat and bone marrow stem cells from Colon, injecting them back into Colon’s elbow and shoulder to help repair ligament damage and a torn rotator cuff.

The procedure here included help from a cardiologist, general surgeon, anesthesiologist, and an orthopedic surgeon. Judging by the speed of Colon’s fastball, and his pain-free delivery, it seems to have done the trick. But the question is whether this is the future of sports medicine or another type of performance enhancing practice that could become abused. A similar type of procedure that involves a blood-spinning technique known as platelet-rich plasma therapy has gotten physicians into hot water with the MLB and US federal jury before. It’s a fine line between scientific advancements and cheating, and this will only serve to blur it further.

Be sure to check out some of the fascinating articles below and then let us know what you think is acceptable and what is not.

Pitcher’s Treatment Draws Scrutiny [NY Times]

What’s the big deal about Bartolo Colon’s stem cell injections? [NBC]

Bartolo Colon’s stem cell treatment opens a new can of worms [Yahoo!]