Some former Dallas Cowboy greats say they're dealing with pain and injuries from the brutality of pro-football careers with stem cell treatment.
The treatment they receive is not fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration so part of it is done in Mexico, where medical regulations are not as strict.
Stem cells have been called "cure-alls" and "miracle treatments." Some celebrity athletes have bought into it, getting treatment they say is life changing. Among those athletes are big-time former Dallas Cowboys players, lending their names to the treatment.
Their clients include some of the biggest names in Dallas Cowboys football like former Pro-Bowl linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Renfro, and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman Bob Lilly. They were together, at the Mansion on Turtle Creek recently, talking stem cell treatment with Houston-based company, Celltex.
“I have no pain,” Lilly said. “And that's pretty unusual when you've played 24 years of football.”
Lilly, "Mr. Cowboy" himself, has received two of the more than 4,500 therapies Celltex says it’s administered since its founding in 2011. He is not paid company spokesman but is participating in a sports study, according to the company.
Lilly credits his friend and fellow Celltex client, former Texas A&M football coach Jackie Sherrill, with changing his life by encouraging him to get the treatment because Lilly couldn't even lift his arms.
The procedure is done in two parts in the U.S. and in Mexico because it is not entirely FDA approved. Celltex suctions fat tissue from the stomach, then extracts stem cells and multiplies them. Those stem cells are shipped to Cancun, where the client travels for treatment. In Cancun, the transformative stem cells are then injected back into the patient.
Celltex CEO David Eller says the FDA is feeling the ground swell from companies like Celltex to accelerate the process of evaluating stem cell treatments for FDA approval.
“We're legal with everything,” Eller said. “Except we just can't give you your own stem cells here.”
This past legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed a bill into law that gives sick patients the "right to try" stem cell therapy in Texas.
“We think, with the bill we passed, that we will push the challenge to the FDA,” said Texas House Rep. Drew Springer.
But the FDA warns in its own words “don't believe the hype...beware of potentially dangerous procedures." The FDA advises patients to make sure the treatment is being studied under an "investigational new drug application.”
Eller says Celltex is, but it’s in early stages.
Dr. Emerson Perin with the Texas Heart Institute Stem Cell Center in Houston is in phase three of an FDA trial for stem cell treatment that could receive approval next year. He says stem cell treatments offered by companies can help cure ailments, but the stem cell technology being developed by academic scientists is much more sophisticated and effective.
"The product may not be as pure or as potent, definitely not developed in a lab or the quality that we're able to do in academic centers,” Perin said.
Lilly maintains the treatment, which costs thousands per treatment, works.
“I have a vitality that I didn't have for many years,” he said. “I was losing vitality, and now I'm getting vitality. I want to do things.”
Dr. Perin says the kind of stem cell used matters. He works with stem cells from heart tissue to repair the heart, which he says is more effective than stem cells taken from fat tissue. He says people who are sick and interested in stem cell treatment now should look into participating in a clinical trial, which might be more specific to their medical needs and safer.