Undetectable stem cell treatment could be the wave of the performance-enhancement future

It was a good week for the drug police. Lance Armstrong dropped his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon was banned 50 games by Major League Baseball for a positive testosterone test.

Bartolo Coln credits stem cell treatment for his return to Major League Baseball. (Getty)The enforcers should enjoy this moment while it lasts, because sports science is on the precipice of a potentially new era of performance enhancement: stem cell therapy, which could soon make testosterone injections as ancient as the typewriter and press enforcement agencies like USADA to play catch up once again.

"Sports medicine will definitely see a revolution in the next 10 to 50 years," says Allston Stubbs, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Health. "We'll go from traditional scalpel surgery to biologic surgery. Now we operate with a knife, but we'll move to cells or growth factors."

This is both thrilling and daunting in the performance-enhancement realm, because stem cell therapy is potentially both an avenue to better performance and a doorway to undetectable enhancement.

Colon is an example of how both, if the science advances as some in the field of stem cell research believe it will, are inevitable.

First, a short primer: Stem cell therapy is where fat and/or bone marrow (both of which contain stem cells) are drawn from the body. The stem cells are then separated out from the extracted fluid and re-injected into an injured area (i.e. Colon's elbow) to help stimulate the re-growth of healthy tissue.

In 2010, Colon underwent stem cell therapy for his injured elbow and shoulder. He credited the procedure for saving his career. And even more recently, Peyton Manning reportedly traveled to Germany for a stem cell procedure on his injured neck. He's gone from the brink of retirement to the new starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos.

Certain stem cell treatments are allowed in the Unites States (usage of embryonic stem cells is not legal in the U.S.). But the science here in the States is far behind the rest of the world, which has been dabbling in stem cell therapy for years. For this reason, athletes tend to travel abroad. Colon, 38, was one of them.

[Related: Bartolo Colon suspended 50 games for testing positive for synthetic testosterone]

But there was a murky side to the story: Colon worked with a Florida-based doctor named Joseph R. Purita, who told the New York Times he has used Human Growth Hormone (banned by Major League Baseball) for the procedure in the past. Purita insisted to the Times he did not use HGH in Colon's procedure, which was conducted in the Dominican Republic. MLB investigators questioned Purita, but nothing came of it.

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Undetectable stem cell treatment could be the wave of the performance-enhancement future

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