Lots of athletes like Kobe Bryant, Fred Couples and Alex Rodriguez have been using a new treatment called Regenokine therapy to help heal their injuries. But is Regenokine real or just another urban myth? Turns out the stories about Regenokine may in fact be true.
Although Kobe has been mostly silent on the topic of his arthritic knee — "I'm not talking about my injury" is a constant refrain — his main treatment consisted of a new therapy called Regenokine. The therapy itself is part of a larger category of treatments known as "biologic medicine," in which the patient's own tissues are extracted, carefully manipulated, and then reintroduced to the body.
In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in biologics. (The list of people who have also experimented with Regenokine reportedly includes Fred Couples, superagent Ari Emanuel, and the late Pope John Paul II.) Those willing to pay out of pocket can now treat their ailing joints with everything from platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy, in which blood is spun until it contains a high concentration of healing platelets, to concentrated bone marrow injections, dense with stem cells. What all of these biologics have in common is the same appealing logic: Instead of cutting with a scalpel, or administering a synthetic drug — these treatments have long recovery times and nasty side effects — the healing mechanisms of the flesh should be put to work. The body heals best when it heals itself.
Consider the Regenokine approach, a patented method developed by Dr. Peter Wehling, a spinal surgeon in Düsseldorf, Germany. The procedure begins with the removal of a small cup of blood from a patient, which is then incubated at a slightly elevated temperature. (The goal is to give the blood a fever.) The liquid is then spun in a centrifuge until it's separated into its constituent parts. The heavy red blood cells accumulate in the bottom layer, a layer of crimson crud at the bottom of the plastic tube. The relevant fluid is the middle yellowish layer — it looks like viscous urine — which is dense with agents that, at least in theory, can accelerate the natural healing mechanisms of the body. "The inflammatory response is normally part of the recovery process," says Chris Renna, one of the only American doctors administering Regenokine. "But sometimes the body can't turn the inflammation off, and that's when you get chronic pain and arthritic degeneration. The goal of Regenokine is to stop that response so your body can begin getting better."
Kobe is clearly a believer in Regenokine and biologic medicine. Last July, he traveled to Düsseldorf, Germany, for an experimental version of the treatment and, according to reports, returned for a second round in October. He even recommended the treatment to Alex Rodriguez, which led the baseball star to undergo the same treatment on his knee late last year. Bryant hasn't commented publicly on the treatment, but A-Rod has described the feelings of his friend. Bryant "was really adamant about how great the procedure was for him," Rodriguez told reporters."I know that he was hurting before, almost even thinking about retirement, that's how much pain he was under. And then he said after he went to Germany he felt like a 27-year-old again. I was still a little apprehensive about it and he kept staying on me about it."
The reason Kobe, A-Rod, and other athletes travel to Germany for their biologic treatments involves a vague FDA regulation that mandates that all human tissues (such as blood and bone marrow) can only be "minimally manipulated," or else they are classified as a drug and subject to much stricter governmental regulations. The problem, of course, is figuring out what "minimal" means in the context of biologics. Can the blood be heated to a higher temperature, as with Regenokine? Spun in a centrifuge? Can certain proteins be filtered out? Nobody knows the answer to these questions, and most American doctors are unwilling to risk the ire of regulators.
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