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Taking a closer look at the Bartolo Colon stem cell therapy

Aug 3, 2011, 2:30 PM EDT

CJ Nitkowski

C.J. Nitkowski pitched in the bigs for ten years but had to hang it up due to shoulder problems.  Because of those problems, and because of the example of Bartolo Colon‘s rather startling comeback, Nitkowski decided to undergo the same stem cell treatment Colon famously received.

Nitkowski writes about it in Sports Illustrated, and it’s well worth a read.  I’m struck by how ho-hum this allegedly controversial medical procedure is.  Because it can be accompanied by HGH — though Colon and Nitkowski’s were not — it gave everyone a case of the vapors when Colon’s therapy was discussed. But really, this sounds like less of a big deal than laser eye surgery and most kinds of dental work.

At the end of the article Nitkowski speculates that this sort of therapy may be useful as routine offseason maintenance for pitchers one day, and he makes a lot of sense.

Knowledge is power. Reading about this procedure from a guy who had it done to him will do an awful lot to silence the Bartolo Colon worrywarts.

(thanks to churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged for the link)

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Aug 3, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    “Reading about this procedure from a guy who had it done to him will do an awful lot to silence the Bartolo Colon worrywarts.”

    Craig, I don’t really use twitter much and I don’t spend a ton of time reading everything baseball related on the internet…but I like to believe I read my fair share of stuff. Can you please explain who these “worrywarts” are? And I hope you aren’t just referring to the people who comment here and on other blogs. I am just curious because I do see things like this article that confirm what Colon did wasn’t wrong or against any rules and what I am really wondering is why the need to do so?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Aug 3, 2011 at 2:43 PM

      There are a lot of media people — reporters and stuff — who can’t seem to mention Colon without talking about stem cells, HGH jokes, etc. And when his medical records came out, they would offer little hand-wringing comments about it.

      It’s not so much that people think he did something wrong or can put a finger on it. It’s just that there is this whole mindset that, because there is a tenuous connection to HGH, there is something suspicious about the procedure. Like they’re just waiting to hear that Colon is in some kind of trouble.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Aug 3, 2011 at 2:52 PM

        I guess I need to get out more…or less.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 3, 2011 at 2:58 PM

        It’s because you probably don’t read the Post and/or Daily News. For instance, in the article it’s clearly noted that HGH is used for non-athletes as part of the recovery procedure. The doctor specifically notes that he doesn’t use it on athletes though. I’m guessing at least 3 articles will cite this story tomorrow and will conveniently leave that part out while blasting MLB’s drug policy in regards to HGH.

      • JBerardi - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:10 PM

        “Like they’re just waiting to hear that Colon is in some kind of trouble.”

        I think Colon’s situation creates a certain cognitive dissonance among steroid crusader types. The fact is that, as time goes by, there’s going to be more and more safe, legal medical procedures, therapies, and/or pharmaceuticals that are far more beneficial to baseball players than anything Barry Bonds ever used. The line they’ve drawn becomes fuzzier every day. Home run records are going to seem like small beer once they can just pop-rivet new shoulders onto dudes and everyone pitches until they’re 55. Plus, once pediatricians just start prescribing this stuff for routine broken bones and such, how are we supposed to maintain our righteous moral outrage over the corruption of The Children that PED use so obviously represents?

  2. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 3, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    I am still curious to see what MLB would do if Colon said he did use legally-prescribed HGH as part of his therapy. He was out of baseball at the time, and as long as he is not using it now it seems that there would be little they could do. But I’m sure there would be much hand-wringing from the press and from Bud’s Ivory Tower of Purity.

  3. phukyouk - Aug 3, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Excellent article. very informative. I dont remeber much about him but i cannot imagine that a big league former pitcher would really care about $7500 to possilby allow him to pitch again.

    • clydeserra - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:34 PM

      The fact that he knew the price already tells me that he was about to do it, but heard of the Colon success story and went with the cheaper price.

  4. Jonny 5 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    • Ari Collins - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:50 PM

      Shakin’ that stick, drive me a-crazy! Eyes are red and hazy!

  5. trevorb06 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    You know, after reading this my mindset on HGH actually is changing a little bit.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:41 PM

      Don’t leave us hanging like that. Go on…

  6. cba456 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    I don’t think the severity (or lack thereof) of the procedure has much relevance on whether it should be allowed or not in a given sport. That is very similar (although more complicated) to blood doping, which many sports have banned, because they have decided it could give someone an unfair advantage. I’m mostly undecided about the issue, and i haven’t really made up my mind about whether or not baseball should allow it, but just because it’s not a big deal doesn’t mean it is automatically OK.

    • clydeserra - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:37 PM

      I still don’t know what is unfair about something that is available to everyone.

    • mox19380 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:43 PM

      i think stem cell therapy (not necessarily hgh) should be used in true medical necessity cases. Otherwise it probably shouldn’t be allowed only because of the way traditional stem cells are harvested

    • cur68 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:44 PM

      The big difference is that blood doping is carried out on individuals without injuries. They are healthy, trained up athletes not guys with tears in critical muscles. As such, blood doping would likely do little to heal up an injury* without scarring. That’s the critical thing here, BTW. The injury will heal and scarring is kept to a minimum. It’s the scars that reduce the muscle’s ability to function. Between endogenous HGH and stimulated stem cells, the muscles heal faster and cleaner. Still needs more looking into though.

      (*Might have an effect in the event of anaerobic staph infection, but even that then is injury related not performance enhancing: no one with a critical staph infection is competing at anything except trying to save their hides. I do believe there is some research being carried out to investigate this effect of blood doping but I couldn’t be arsed to look it up: I’m just speculating).

      • cba456 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:56 PM

        Oh, I agree. I don’t really have a problem with it as a treatment for an injury. But when one talks about regular offseason maintenance, it gets a little more confusing. Which really is the rub here. When are treatments such as HGH, blood doping, or stem cell injections considered treatments, and when are they considered replacement therapies, and when are they considered performance enhancers? I’m not sure. To be clear, I don’t think there is an ethical problem here, but it’s fair for a sport to decide what and what isn’t allowed within the sport.

      • cba456 - Aug 3, 2011 at 4:05 PM

        Oh, and to follow up on the injury thing – in someone like Nitkowski’s case – the line between injury and residual wear and tear from years of pitching is really difficult to draw. I’m sure he has a bunch of scar tissue built up in his shoulder from years of use (abuse?), just as i’m sure someone like Jim Thome is producing less HGH than he did when he was 26. Is he in line for replacement therapy? I don’t think so.*

        *And i don’t mean that sarcastically. I don’t think so, but i’m not completely sure.

  7. cur68 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    One day, soon I hope, this will be wide spread therapy. As accepted as acupuncture, ultrasound, & anti-inflammatory therapy for injuries. For right now I think I’d like to see a bit more research; a few more peer reviewed studies and some definitive results alongside placebo trials to know if the therapy really works and what the limitations might be. Also I hope to see C.J. Nitkowski back in the bigs real soon. That’d be a pretty good indication of success.

  8. mox19380 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    stem cell therapy is one of those hot button issues due to how the cells are acquired (most often aborted fetus’, fetuses, fetae?) but the benefits of what they can do is undeniable. From the research I had to do in college it seems like the stem cells can do almost everything from healing a simple wound to healing parkinsons, alheimer’s and potentially cancer. The hgh is used to help the cells grow quicker but even without it, stems cells could potentially be the future miracle drug… it is a hot button issue for our government

    • cur68 - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:47 PM

      Er…I thought most stem cells come from placental cord blood, at least in North America. Do you have information otherwise? I’d like to know if its true or not. I suppose we can’t speak for what goes on in less regulated countries, though.

    • bleedgreen - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:58 PM

      Thats just it, most AREN’T from aborted fetuses. Thats just what the critics of it want you to think though. Most stem cells used in therapy come from the person’s own body.

  9. rathipon - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    I wonder if Dr. Purita had a difficult time finding enough fat on Colon to extract sufficient stem cells. :)

    Interesting point about Pettite in the article. The doc indicated that HGH use in Pettite’s case could have indeed helped him heal faster and not necessarily enhanced his performance. If HGH is commonly used for medical reasons in these types of injuries then why should it be a banned substance? Steroids also, obviously, have legitimate medical uses. It makes me wonder if perhaps MLB has overreacted to the performance enhancing aspects of these drugs and is now unreasonably withholding useful medical care from its players.

    • spindervish - Aug 3, 2011 at 4:20 PM


      I find it beyond ridiculous that regular recipients of this type of treatment use HGH as part of the recovery process, yet if you’re a professional athlete – for whom the body and its recovery and performance is of the utmost importance – you can’t have this part of the treatment.

  10. sdelmonte - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    The big takeaway for me is that WADA, which seems like it would ban band-aids if it could, give its blessing to this procedure. If they approve it, it’s gotta be beyond clean.

  11. bigtrav425 - Aug 3, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    again…your right when people should do there research…HGH is a good thing!! i still do not see how it is a bad thing or cheating..eventually its going to be unbanned .its just a matter of time and people stopping being to PC

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