Stem cell therapy offers hope for Starr, others

Posted at 6:29 PM, Nov 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-24 19:29:33-05

MADISON -- It's a controversial treatment, and one that the FDA does not stand behind.

But Packers legend Bart Starr has seen success following his trip across the border for stem cell therapy.   Stem cells have been used to repair cells that are damaged by disease or age, but the FDA is continuing to hold a tight cap on them.  There are some clinical trials here, but none that could help Bart Starr or so many others like him.

RELATED: Watch Lance Allan's exclusive interview with Bart Starr

A stroke in 2012 took away one Sheboygan County father's ability to walk. Randy Steinhardt thinks his only hope may be stem cells, like the infusions Bart Starr went to Mexico for this summer.

But that could be years away. Researchers at UW-Madison are using stem cells in the lab, in a limited capacity.

"I mean the FDA is keeping a close watch on stem cells, whether it be adult stem cells versus embryonic versus induced pluripotent, I mean they are requiring very strict application and guidance for use in very specific parts of the body," said Dr. Susan Thibeault, UW-Madison.

Dr. Thibeault says that's why patients are taking their needs across the border.

“They go to Europe and other countries because the FDA has not approved the use of these in the U.S. yet," said Dr. Thibeault.

Her research involves stem cells and the larynx.  Bart Starr had two strokes and a heart attack last year. Now, he's walking and talking again. Dr. Nathan Welham's also working to help patients with speech difficulties. His findings were published this week and do not involve stem cells.

"These patients have advanced problems in the vocal cord, either the tissue is really injured or it’s just gone because it’s been taken away by a surgeon," said Dr. Welham.

Dr. Welham created replacement tissue in the lab for damaged vocal cords. But, that's still five to ten years away from a clinical trial of some sort.

"And then we cannot put any kind of engineered tissue in a patient  without permission from the FDA and so there are a number of special regulations involved in getting that approval," said Dr. Welham.

You can go online and learn about all the other stem cell research taking place in Madison at this link.