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AFL approves stem-cell therapy treatment

An Australian-based biomedical company has been given approval from the AFL to use stem-cell therapy on players recovering from injury.

Sydney-based Regeneus has revealed it was recently given permission for its HiQCell treatment on players suffering from such issues as osteoarthritis and tendinopathy.

The treatment is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency if it is performance-enhancing but allowed if it is solely to treat injuries.

Regeneus commercial development director Steven Barbera said the regenerative medicine company had sought approval from the AFL for what the company says is "innovative but not experimental" treatment.

"In 2013, Regeneus sought and received clearance from ASADA [Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority] for its proprietary HiQCell therapy for use with athletes who participate in sporting competitions subject to the WADA Anti-Doping Code. The AFL is one of many professional sports bodies which applies the WADA Anti-Doping Code within its regulations for players," he said.

"In March this year, the AFL introduced a Prohibited Treatments List as an additional level of scrutiny over and above the WADA code for player treatments. In light of this, Regeneus made a submission to the AFL to confirm that our specific treatment is not prohibited under that list. Subsequently, the chief medical officer of the AFL has recently communicated with our primary Melbourne-based HiQCell medical practitioner that the treatment is not prohibited and can be administered on a case-by-case basis to players.

"We anticipate documented confirmation of this outcome in the near future from the AFL.

"To our knowledge, the permission is specific to HiQCell and not necessarily to cell-based therapies in general."

The AFL confirmed it had given approval on a "case-by-case" basis.

The treatment involves fat cells being extracted from a player, processed and then injected into an injured tendon or joint, with the view it stimulates cartilage growth.

"Our submission provided considerable specific evidence with regard to the underlying science, regulatory compliance, treatment description, patient safety and treatment efficacy of HiQCell. These standards may not be attributable to other therapies," Barbera said.

AFL club doctors remain cautious about stem cell treatment, fearing it may only mask the pain and not deal with the injury. It is not covered by Medicare.

Barbera would not disclose if any current AFL players had used the treatment. "It would be inappropriate for Regeneus to disclose any specific patient information to you. However, as has been previously reported in the press from other sources, elite athletes across several different sports have been successfully treated with HiQCell and continue to perform at the highest level," he said.

Former Demon Clint Bartram had stem cell treatment after a serious knee injury, but it did not work.

The Regeneus website says a "a growing number of NRL players, including Sam Burgess, Anthony Tupou and Brad Takairangi have had stem cell treatments in recent years".

Barbera said 500 patients - from elite athletes to "weekend warriors" - had used the treatment, with 75 per cent having pain reduction of more than 80 per cent at up to two years post treatment.

Biomedical companies have been willing to provide free treatment to elite athletes in the hope of using that player's rights to help sell the product.

 

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