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A Look Into the Future of Regenerative Sports Medicine
  • Department: Linda & Mitch Hart Center for Regenerative and Personalized Medicine

A Look Into the Future of Regenerative Sports Medicine

Imagine what orthopaedic sports medicine could be 25 years from now.

What if a person’s own stem cells or platelet-rich plasma could be injected or combined with exercise to help patients delay or avoid joint replacement—or heal faster—or enable muscles to heal stronger— or minimize scarring following surgery?

You won’t have to wait 25 years. The future of regenerative sports medicine is now. These advances are already in development, and the person who is leading SPRI’s new Center for Regenerative Sports Medicine is Johnny Huard, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer.

Dr. Huard joined SPRI on May 1, 2015. Originally from Quebec, Canada, he is the former Vice Chair for Musculoskeletal Cellular Therapeutics at the University of Pittsburgh. He was also Director of the Stem Cell Research Center and the Henry J. Mankin Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

He is a world-renowned expert in the field of stem cell research who has extensive expertise in gene therapy, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine—all based on the use of muscle-derived adult stem cells.

Dr. Huard’s appointment at SPRI is part of a unique partnership between the Research Institute and the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston.


Dr. Huard quickly acknowledges that SPRI’s Dr. Richard Steadman was a pioneer in this field, although it wasn’t called regenerative sports medicine at the time. “Dr. Steadman was well ahead of his time. He wanted his patients to be active immediately after surgery. He began to document how this approach was helpful, but no one knew then the science behind why it was working.”

“Twenty-five years later, our research has shown that stem cells come from blood vessels, and that if you increase the number of blood vessels through exercise, you can increase the number of stem cells.”

“At SPRI, we will test our premise that transplanting a person’s own stem cells won’t make that person younger, but that it will delay aging-related disease and conditions such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. In the process, we are learning how to make healing and recovery better.”


“I became interested in the Steadman Clinic a long time ago because of Dr. Steadman’s reputation and in SPRI because of its excellence in research. The Institute was already doing work with platelet-rich plasma (blood plasma enriched with growth factor platelets) and cell biology.” “The physicians who were joining the staff at SPRI were the premier orthopaedic surgeons in the world, and they were putting themselves on the edge because the things they were doing were new.” “Also, I knew Dr. Philippon when he was at the University of Pittsburgh and that he was continuing Dr. Steadman’s legacy by making tremendous advances in the field of hip surgery.” RAPID BENCH-TO-BEDSIDE CAPABILITY Dr. Huard adds that an important factor in his decision to join the staff at SPRI was its capacity to rapidly take an innovative technique or therapy from the research bench to the patient’s bedside. “The best example I can give you is that we are in clinical trials right now with an anti-fibrosis (anti-scarring) agent called losartan. Dr. Philippon was preparing to do surgery on one of his patients. I suggested that (with the patient’s approval) he put the patient on losartan after the surgery. He did and the patient responded well to the therapy. That kind of bench-to-bedside speed might not have been possible at a larger institution.” FOUR INVESTIGATIONS Dr. Huard’s initial research at SPRI will focus on four investigations. The first is to evaluate the effects of exercise and neuromuscular stimulation/ massage on tissue repair after an injury. The second looks at delaying joint degeneration through the injection of adult stem cells and other biologics (medical products made from a biological source). His team wants to find the answer to the question, “Can stem cells be the ultimate body repair kit?” The third study will be a collaboration between Dr. Huard, Dr. Philippon, and Dr. Robert LaPrade, who have injected platelet-rich plasma into selected hip and knee patients to help them heal faster. The three researchers believe that combining PRP with the patient’s own stem cells in an affected joint will significantly accelerate the healing process. The fourth initiative will measure the effects of anti-fibrotic agents on tissue repair. Significantly reducing scarring in the injured tissue could create a dramatically more satisfying and faster recovery. TIMETABLES, GOALS “It is very difficult to predict exact timetables in terms of research outcomes,” says Dr. Huard, “but we may be within a year for some of the PRP applications. With stem cells, we have already seen positive results with 12 patients to repair cardiac tissue and 500 patients to reduce bladder dysfunctions. Because of advances we’ve made in other areas, we may be able to go faster in sports medicine.” Dr. Huard’s timetable for the new Regenerative Sports Medicine Laboratory at SPRI is much more specific. “By the end of the first year, we want the lab to be well funded, to be fully functional, and to have produced multiple publications to show people what we are doing.” He is also explicit in his expectations of where he wants the SPRI Center for Regenerative Sports Medicine to be in terms of world leadership. “We want people around the world to know about viable treatment options for orthopaedic injuries and conditions. Based on our interaction with other departments at SPRI, we will be able to tell patients what works, what doesn’t work, and explain the reasons why. The Center will be a place where we make treatments better and safer for our patients.” In the long term, Dr. Huard envisions every person having the opportunity to harvest his or her own stem cells, preferably at a young age. The cells could be frozen, stored, and then re-injected later to help those people age better, enjoy an active life, and get the best treatment when they need it. Although it may take 10 years to perfect, the procedure could literally slow down the aging process. Dr. Huard brings an unparalleled record of achievements, publications, and awards to the Steadman Philippon Research Institute. With your support, there is every reason to believe that he, his team, and his colleagues at SPRI represent the future of regenerative sports medicine to the rest of the world.

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