The scientific efforts of McGowan Institute faculty member Johnny Huard, PhD, Associate Professor in the Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry and Bioengineering, the Director of the Growth and Development Laboratory of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and the Henry J. Mankin Endowed Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery Research, aim to improve the quality of life. His and his research team’s efforts are exploring the answer to health areas such as muscular dystrophy and repairing bones, joints, and muscles damaged by regular wear and tear or injuries. One group particularly interested in his medical research results is the U. S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Why? Interest lies in the potential athlete performance-enhancing capabilities of his tissue engineering research.
Stem cells could by used by athletes to grow bigger, stronger muscles. Since the stem cells would be a natural substance coming from the athlete himself, more than likely this “natural doping” would be undetectable.
"In essence, we're talking about taking part of yourself and injecting it back into you somewhere else. It's 100 percent naturally you," says Huard. "And if that's the case, do we call that cheating?"
Dr. Huard believes that if stem cells were injected into healthy tissues, the stem cells would respond by making those tissues “even stronger.”
"We're not talking about taking a bad athlete and making him super," Huard said. "We're talking about taking a super athlete and giving him that fraction-of-a-second edge to get that gold medal."
Travis Tygart, the senior managing director of the USADA, is confident his group is at a point where it can stay ahead of the cheaters. Because his group is working so closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement—as well as doctors, trainers, scientists, and researchers such as Huard—he sees the USADA as an efficient and effective watchdog.
Dr. Huard realizes the help he gives to a boy with muscular dystrophy may also help an athlete gain an unfair benefit.
Said Tygart: "You don't want these researchers to stop developing these technologies. It would be ridiculous to suggest that. You want to have these productive discussions to examine what we can do so these drugs and developments don't become abused by an athlete seeking an advantage."
Illustration: MicroSoft clipart.
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