Did stem cells really help Gordie Howe?

Posted: December 26, 2014 at 8:48 am

Dr. Murray Howe and his hockey great father, Gordie Howe, on a fishing trip in Saskatchewan in 2013.

Hockey legend Gordie Howe is making a dramatic recovery from a serious stroke thanks to stem cell therapy developed by San Diego-based Stemedica, his family says. Some medical scientists aren't so sure, however.

Howe, 86, suffered the stroke in late October, leaving him unable to walk and disoriented. He began improving within hours after receiving the stem cells in early December, said Dr. Murray Howe, a radiologist and one of Howes sons. For example, Howe insisted on walking to the bathroom, which he previously could not do.

"If I did not witness my father's astonishing response, I would not have believed it myself," Murray Howe said by email Thursday. "Our father had one foot in the grave on December 1. He could not walk, and was barely able to talk or eat."

"Our father's progress continues," the email continued. "Today, Christmas, I spoke with him on FaceTime. I asked him what Santa brought him. He said 'A headache.' I told him I was flying down to see him in a week. He said, 'Thanks for the warning.'"

Howe is receiving speech and physical therapy at his home in Lubbock, Texas, and his therapists say he is much better than before receiving the stem cells.

Howe received the treatment from Novastem, a Mexican stem cell company that has licensed the use of Stemedica's cells for clinical trials approved by the Mexican government. Howe was given neural stem cells to help his brain repair damage, and stem cells derived from bone marrow to improve blood circulation in the brain. The procedure took place at Novastem's Clinica Santa Clarita in Tijuana.

Such use of unproven stem cell therapies outside the U.S. clinical trial system draws objections from some American health care professionals. They warn of the potential for abuse, say there's a lack of rigorous scientific standards, and call for tighter federal regulation of the proliferation of stem cell treatments.

Nevertheless, patients with ailments that don't response to approved treatments continue to seek such care. These patients and families say they have the right to make their own judgments. And they may not have time to wait for proof, so they're willing to take a chance.

Stemedica says it follows U.S. government law, and requires those licensing its stem cells in foreign countries to obey the laws of those countries.

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Did stem cells really help Gordie Howe?

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