CLEVELAND – An experimental stem cell procedure is offering hope to NFL players who have suffered multiple concussions. “Using things that come out of my body to regenerate things and help me feel better it’s absolutely a no brainer,” said former NFL Superbowl Champ Matt Wilhelm. Wilhelm is the first former NFL player to undergo the treatment in Ohio to feel better and prevent Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, which is caused by repeated concussions.
The connection was discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu while conducting an autopsy on Pro-football Hall of Famer and Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster. The research led to class-action lawsuits, the movie Concussion and major changes within the NFL. Studies at Boston University found CTE in 87 of 91 former NFL players brains, who suffered symptoms like memory loss, paranoia, depression and dementia. “We want to do anything we can to help and to slow down that progression,” said Vanessa Wilhelm, Matt’s wife.
The outpatient treatment utilizes a person’s own regenerative mesenchymal stem cells, called Stromal Vascular Fraction, found in their fat. Once extracted and re-introduced into the body, the SVF recognizes any injury or disease and rushes to heal it with minimal pain and side effects. “It’s endothelial progenitor cells, red cells, T-cells and macrophages,” said Dr. Michael Kellis. “And it’s important to note these stem cells are what we call pluripotent, meaning they become the same type of cells as those of where we put them.” The patient-funded research is entering Phase 2 of the clinical studies locally at the Ohio Stem Cell Treatment Center of Cleveland, part of the National Cell Surgical Network. The test areas include: autoimmune diseases, arthritis, Crohn’s, erectile dysfunction, urology, neurology, orthopedics, cardiopulmonary, ophthalmology, hair restoration, and Lichen Sclerosis. Dr. Mark Foglietti says so far they have seen incredible results with around 90% of patients seeing improvements ranging from minor to miraculous. Cleveland radio and TV personality Kym Sellers was the first person in Ohio to undergo the procedure for advanced Multiple Sclerosis.
“Kym continues to do very well,” said Dr. Foglieti, “We’ve stabilized her disease and stopped the progression.” Another NFL superstar, former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, also saw a major improvement in his badly scarred and injured knees. “I spoke with Joe personally about it and said shoot me straight …am I going from a 4 to a 6 or ….and he interrupted me and said no you’re gonna go from a 4 to a 9,” said Wilhelm. Dr. Foglietti says the bigger goal is to improve and repair his nervous system so that he never gets CTE, which could also eventually help veterans and anyone else who has suffered a concussion or brain injury. “There is a study in California right now with rats that underwent concussion and if they were treated with SVF within one to 2 weeks the symptoms and pathology of concussion were completely removed,” said Dr. Foglietti. It takes two to three months to know if the treatment is working in humans and a person can continue to be treated as long as they are showing signs of improvement. But the cost is around $8,000 right now, because although the protocols are FDA approved, the procedure itself is not and won’t be until the results are completed, properly reviewed and published in medical journals. Additionally there are no guarantees and a person must have approval from their primary physician and be healthy enough to sustain an outpatient procedure.
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The Ohio Stem Cell Treatment Center is led by Dr. Mark Foglietti, of Beachwood (Cleveland) Ohio.