Los Angeles Angels pitcher Garrett Richards underwent a stem cell procedure in 2017 in hopes of avoiding the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately for Richards, the treatment did not provide him the long-term relief he was hoping for. It now turns out he will have to undergo a potentially career-ending surgical procedure.
Richards’ results are truly unfortunate, but they do not warrant the negative press stem cell therapy has received in the press. For example, the Los Angeles Times ran a very negative piece on July 16 insinuating that Richards’ failed treatment proves stem cell therapy doesn’t work. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is quite possible that Richards will not be able to return to baseball after undergoing Tommy John surgery. It happens all the time. Tommy John surgery has ended dozens of major league careers. Would the LA Times suggest that a failed Tommy John surgery proves it doesn’t work? Absolutely not. Likewise, one failed treatment does not negate all the successful treatments athletes have undergone to date.
It Doesn’t Work for Everyone
Those who believe strongly in the efficacy of stem cell therapy fully understand that it does not work for everyone. At the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) in Salt Lake City, Utah, medical experts who teach stem cell procedures even go so far as to instruct doctors to inform patients it might not work. ARMI acknowledges that stem cell therapy is not a miracle cure for musculoskeletal injuries. But no treatment is.
When media outlets imply that stem cell therapy and other forms of regenerative medicine are illegitimate because some patients do not respond well to them, they are following a line of logic that is just as dangerous as promising miracle cures. To imply that stem cell therapy is illegitimate because Garrett Richards still requires surgery is to also imply that surgery is legitimate because it might help.
How did we ever reach the place where regenerative medicine must reach a higher standard than other forms of treatment? There is no single cure for any disease or injury guaranteed to work for everyone. The truth is that patients respond differently across the entire spectrum of medicine.
Clinical Data Is Growing
Another dangerous assertion put forth by critics is the idea that there is no clinical data proving the efficacy of regenerative medicine procedures. That is simply not true. What they mean when they say that is that there are no clinical studies submitted to the FDA for unneeded approval. But that does not mean clinical data doesn’t exist.
Numerous studies looking into stem cell efficacy have been undertaken over the last several decades. It’s true that none of them show stem cell therapy works 100% of the time. The data does show that it works for some people but not others.
Furthermore, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence in support of stem cell therapy for musculoskeletal injuries. As much as the critics of regenerative medicine want to ignore such evidence, it’s not possible to do so. Medical science uses anecdotal evidence all the time, so there’s no reason to consider it invalid when it relates to regenerative medicine, just because you’re not in favor of stem cell and PRP therapies.
Hopefully Garrett Richards will return to the mound at some point following Tommy John surgery. He is one of the unfortunate ones for whom stem cell therapy proved ineffective. But his results do not change the fact that other athletes have returned to competition, and avoided surgery in many cases, after receiving stem cell injections.