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Mountain News: Clinic advances stem-cell research



VAIL, Colo. — In 1988, George Gillett, who then owned what has become Vail Resorts, persuaded Dr. Richard Steadman to relocate his medical practice from Lake Tahoe to Vail. The Steadman Clinic soon became the go-to-place for athletes with knee and other joint problems.

It still is. Football quarterback Tom Brady has been there, soccer icon Pele and basketball power Yao Ming. Plus John Elway, Mario Lemieux, and Alex Rodriguez. Big names from the ski world, obviously. But also the drummer for the rock band U2, Larry Mullen, Jr.

Now, the clinic will be getting a new, 2,415-square-metre research lab courtesy of the Vail Valley Medical Center. The US$68 million facility will house the Steadman Philippon Research Institute's labs for surgical skills, robotics, regenerative medicine, and bio-motion. The clinic and associated research institute together employ 190 people.

Research being conducted there is getting attention. A recent report in The Denver Post by staff writer John Meyer suggests you may have a stake in the work at the base of Vail Mountain. The story focused on the work of Dr. Johnny Huard, the chief scientific officer and director of the Center for Regenerative Sports Medicine.

Huard is trying to advance the techniques that allow people to heal more rapidly. The field is called biologics. Cells from the patient's own body are used in concentrated injections to hasten repair of tissue at the site of the injury.

Stem cells and platelet-rich plasma therapy will someday delay age-related diseases and cut the recovery time from serious injuries.

"I don't think we can reverse aging, but I think we can age better and recover from injury better," said Dr. Marc Philippon, managing partner of the Steadman Clinic.

"As a surgeon, my biggest challenge is, if I cut on you there's always that healing phase. We want you to recover faster. But the most important thing is prevention of injury. If your cells are aging better, you'll have less injury."

Before moving to Vail two years ago, Huard directed the Stem Cell Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. In Vail, the researchers think injections of stem cells and PRP can help delay or prevent the need for joint replacements. At the adjacent Steadman Clinic, they can test the theories in clinical trials. Animal studies have already shown that young stem cells can rejuvenate old stem cells.

Huard advocates passionately harvesting stem cells from the umbilical cord of a newborn, freezing them at -80 degrees Fahrenheit (-62 C). Those cells can later be thawed and reintroduced into the body as younger and more robust stem cells than the ones that have aged in the patient.

An athlete who blows out an anterior cruciate ligament in training camp currently loses a full year. Being able to return to play sooner could dramatically change the recovery time for injuries.

As good as dead, skier survives a heart attack

JACKSON, Wyo. — Imagine having a heart-attack in the backcountry. Just what do you think your odds are?

Mike Connolly, 61, was skiing on a ridge of Maverick Peak, in Grand Teton National Park, when he reported chest pains. Because they had cell phones, members of his party were able to summon help. A helicopter with three members of the Teton County Search and Rescue was dispatched.

At the scene, Connolly went into cardiac arrest. He ceased breathing and he had no pulse. Members of his group began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Then rescuers arrived with an automated defibrillator. They shocked Connolly once, and he regained a pulse and began breathing again. A short time later, he was able to verbally communicate with those around him.

Uber drivers now ply roads

JACKSON, Wyo. — Because of new state legislation, Uber and Lyft are now allowed to operate in Wyoming. Uber took just hours after the bill was signed before opening its car doors for business in Jackson Hole, reported the News&Guide.

Uber drivers must have valid licences, registration, proof of insurance, and a passing grade on an online safety screening. Uber allows drivers to use their own cars or commercially licensed vehicles.