Last December, baseball’s Los Angeles Angels revealed that a star player from Japan had received platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections prior to joining the team. The announcement would not have been so unusual had Angels general manager Billy Eppler not mentioned the fact that the treatments were meant to be preventative.
According to news reports, two-way player Shohei Ohtani was given the injections by his Japanese team in response to a slight sprain of his right ulnar collateral ligament. The injections were meant to prevent further injury in light of the fact that Ohtani’s potential at the major-league level rests in his pitching ability.
Where the procedures were performed and by whom is less of a concern than the reason behind the treatments. It lays bare an obvious question that regenerative medicine practitioners now must deal with: should regenerative medicine be used as a preventative measure?
Preventative Medicine Generally Accepted
The general rule in Western medicine is that prevention is good. Doctors prescribe low-dose aspirin to patients demonstrating a higher risk of heart disease. Oncologists sometimes recommend full mastectomies to patients at high risk of developing breast cancer. The idea of preventive medicine is well received and considered routine care.
Taking things one step further, preventive medicine was at the core of the effort to introduce health maintenance organizations (HMOs) in the 1970s. You could make the case that our current HMO-focused healthcare system would not even exist had its proponents not pushed preventative medicine decades ago.
All of this lends credence to the idea of utilizing regenerative medicine for preventative purposes. In the case of Shohei Ohtani, doctors determined that PRP injections were appropriate as a means of heading off further injury. It seems to have worked. So far this season, Ohtani’s only nagging issue is a blister on his pitching hand.
Preventative Implications for Osteoarthritis
Let’s say for just a minute that Ohtani’s good health this season really is the result of PRP treatments and not his overall good health and dumb luck. What would that suggest? It would suggest that the treatments encouraged his body to undergo a healing process that strengthened his ulnar collateral ligament enough to reduce the risk of future injury.
We could apply the same thinking to treating osteoarthritis. As you may already know, osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that slowly breaks down a person’s joints. What starts out as minor pain gradually becomes chronic and severe as cartilage and other buffering tissue breaks down and wears away. What if we could stop tissue breakdown and loss?
There are some in the regenerative medicine community who believe this is entirely possible via both PRP and stem cell injections. Indeed, companies like Apex Biologix and the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute are actively engaged with doctors and clinics making use of regenerative medicine for treating osteoarthritis patients. They have already worked with hundreds of clinics to introduce regenerative medicine to their patients.
An Ounce of Prevention
Our appreciation of preventive medicine rests on the well-known adage that says, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. It is just common sense that we would appreciate the opportunity to prevent illness or injury rather than waiting until it occurs to treat it. So in that sense, using regenerative medicine as a preventative measure seems reasonable.
Perhaps the uneasiness we feel about proactively injecting pro baseball pitchers with PRP serum is only due to a lack of knowledge. Maybe if we knew more about regenerative medicine and its efficacy we wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it as a preventative measure.