World famous golfer, Jack Nicklaus has revealed he underwent an experimental stem cell treatment to relive chronic back pain. Nicklaus, now 78, has relied on cortisone injections to manage the condition since his teens. Conventional surgery on his spine when he was 64 failed with Nicklaus stating:

“I could not hit a golf ball without hurting, I could not hit a tennis ball without hurting. And I couldn’t stand up for more than about 10 minutes”

Nicklaus first met stem cell pioneer Dr Eckhard Alt at his 75th birthday party, where Dr Alt, professor at the Technical University of Munich, convinced him that a adipose stem cells (found in body fat) could be a solution to the problem. In a simple procedure stem cells were taken from fat in his abdomen and then injected into his lower back. Within a week of the 90-minute treatment he was back on the golf course and a couple of months later the pain he use to feel when playing had subsided.

“Other doctors I talked to said it would be six months of this, four months of that. I went in and had the fat taken, an hour later I went back in. I played golf the next week and I thought – this is pretty good.”

Stem cells from fat – how it works

The largest not-for-profit healthcare company in the USA – Sanford Health, developed the treatment received by Jack Nicklaus. The procedure is straightforward and carries no risk of rejection because the stem cells used are the patients own.

  • 100ml to 200ml of fat tissue is taken from the patient’s abdomen
  • The fat is spun in a centrifuge with an enzyme mixture to separate the stem cells
  • The separated stem cells are then injected back into the affected area of the patient

Nicklaus is scheduled to return to Munich in early May for his second stem cell treatment – to treat his shoulder.

Stem cells from fat

Clinical trials using adipose derived stem cells

Sanford Health currently is currently running several FDA-approved trial using adipose-derived stem cells, including:

  • The rotator cuff pivotal – opening in July 2018 and building on their initial study to investigate the potential effects of adipose derived stem cells on rotator cuff tears
  • The Facet Joint Study – opening Summer 2018 this study will look at adipose derived stem cells in patients with osteoarthritis of the facet joint
  • Wrist Osteoarthritis – a study to compare the healing properties of a stem cell injection against a steroid injection – the patients will not know which treatment they are receiving
  • Non-healing leg wounds – An on-going trial that started in 2017 and is recruiting further patients

David Pearce Ph.D., vice president of research and innovation for Sanford health said:

“We know the future of medicine is trying to help the body repair itself and we’re doing everything we can to move in that direction. Having FDA approval for these studies – and having so many of them validates the work we’re doing”

Sanford Health had the first FDA-approved adipose-derived stem cell trial in the USA in 2016 – one year follow ups with enrolled patients are due for completion in May 2018 and study results will be published later in the year.


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