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N.Y. Times: Doc used stem cells to treat Bartolo Colon’s injured shoulder

May 11, 2011, 9:20 PM EDT

New York Yankees v Texas Rangers Getty Images

It’s not often that a major league pitcher is going to prefer to have arm surgery in the Dominican Republic. It might have been necessary in this case, though.

Bartolo Colon received injections of his own stem cells into his shoulder and elbow to treat a rotator cuff tear and ligament damage in a procedure a year ago, the New York Times reports.

Florida-based doctor Joseph R. Purita said he flew to the Dominican Republic and performed the procedures for free. He added that he has also used human growth hormone in similar procedures, though he didn’t in this case.

MLB is looking into the procedure. The Yankees said they didn’t know about it when they signed Colon to a minor league deal this spring. Colon’s agent only informed the team after learning that the New York Times had contacted Purita and was doing an article. The Yankees then informed the league.

Purita made it clear that his procedures are legal in the United States. He said he uses platelet-rich plasma injections in combination with human growth hormone to treat many ligament injuries and arthritic conditions.

Colon, who didn’t pitch after the procedure last April, has returned to the majors to go 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA in four starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees. If he keeps it up, it’d be his first successful season since he won the Cy Young Award for the Angels in 2005. He went 14-21 with a 5.18 ERA from 2006-09.

  1. aceshigh11 - May 11, 2011 at 9:52 PM

    That’s pretty amazing.

    So he’s basically the Six Million Dollar Man?

    I guess he looks a little like Lee Majors.

  2. drunkenhooliganism - May 11, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    When the New York Times question people, do HIPAA laws go out the window?

    This seems like an awesome procedure. And as a guy who is at the forefront* of Cystic Fibrosis research, this is stuff I’ve heard about for years. But I still see this as a positive step to better medicine for everyone.

    *I participate in walks and stuff

  3. phukyouk - May 11, 2011 at 10:10 PM

    ok…. NOW he’s not making into the Hall…

  4. natstowngreg - May 11, 2011 at 10:15 PM

    It might be legal, but does it pass MLB muster?

    For example, I’ve had 4 operations on one eye (for a retina detachment and other problems). After each operation, I was prescribed eye drops that had steroids in them. Perfectly legal, but I was taking an MLB-banned substance.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - May 11, 2011 at 11:56 PM

      Corticosteroids (the kind you’d have been putting in your eye) aren’t related to anabolic steroids in any meaningful way. Athletes receive “cortisone shots” (i.e., injections of corticosteroids) all the time, and they’re perfectly within the law and rules of the sport. “Steroids” as in “the big ugly thing that everyone says killed baseball” refers to anabolic steroids. (for reference, see an article such as http://arthritis.about.com/od/steroids/f/anabolicsteroid.htm)

  5. xmatt0926x - May 11, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    Makes sense. Bartolo Colon at the forefront of breakthrough treatment using stem cells yet he hasn’t figured out the delicate balance of caloric intake and a gigantic belly.

  6. cur68 - May 12, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    Colon was treated with HIS OWN stem cells so he wasn’t doping or using a steroids. Its known as ‘autologous stem cell transplantation”.

    As an undergrad I spent over a year working in a joint replacement clinic and auto-stem cell treatment was something we talked a lot about. In a previous post I mentioned the use of HGH in healing joint damage. There is enough reason to pursue BOTH kinds of treatments for professional athletes, not to mention the general public. Animal studies are very encouraging.

    We as consumers of medical care need to get away from the knee jerk assumption that hormone or infusion treatments are automatically cheating. After all, you can get your eyes laser corrected, cochlear implants, and titanium joint resurfacing; none of which are illegal and all of which improve your condition to a pre-injury status. In fact, in the case of eye surgery, you might be better than the way you were born. Is that cheating? It certainly is an enhancement.

  7. fengypants - May 12, 2011 at 3:05 AM

    Uh-oh, here come the “PIONEERING FAT AND BONE MARROW STEM CELL TREATMENT THAT FALLS INTO A GRAY AREA” chants at Fenway.

  8. visnovsky - May 12, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    I lean republican, but the restrictions on stem cell research are retarded. And there I go offending retards.

    • Rooster Amaro - May 12, 2011 at 8:05 AM

      Visnovsky: Conservatives have always been vocally pro-adult stem cell research. It’s fetal stem cell research they’re against. This is something the Republicans would use to say “Look, we don’t have to be using fetuses to accomplish medical success, we can just use our own, self-produced stem cells”

      Not trying to start a political debate here, but wanted to clear some facts.

      • cur68 - May 12, 2011 at 8:45 AM

        You don’t have to get fetal cells from a fetus. There’s tons in placentas and umbilical cords after a normal delivery.

  9. droogleeddie - May 12, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    I am really curious where this falls in comparison to using HGH to recover from injury… As a Yankee fan, I hope it does not compare, because Colon has helped save what could have been a disasterous rotation.

    I am the furthest thing from a doctor/scientist, so this may be a stupid question, but are stem cells capable of increasing strength? Or were they used to simply repair damaged tissue? I assume the latter because the article states they were used to repair ligament damage… just curious as to the capabilities of stem cells in this regard.

    • cur68 - May 12, 2011 at 8:43 AM

      Think of stem cells as generic cells, like a lego block. They’ll turn into whatever the body needs them to turn into, providing they get the right stimulus to do so. They don’t really increase strength but they can return you to a strong state by fixing an injury and without the scar tissue (see Kendreys Morales for why you might want that).

      HGH, combined with insulin and anabolic steroids can dramatically increase your size and strength (Bonds was on this regime) but on their own simply promote growth of tissue; you still scar but the injury heals faster.

      Combine the 2 and you see where this might be something any person would want.

      • phukyouk - May 12, 2011 at 12:05 PM

        they can even be used to build a Shakeys…

  10. trevorb06 - May 12, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    Does this mean Jamie Moyer must eat embreyos everyday for breakfast?

  11. bigtrav425 - May 12, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    This is why stem cell research is necessary and why hgh is not a bad thing!

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