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HealthWatch: Platelet-Rich Plasma Treatment

WCBS-TV—New York, NY—February 17, 2009

If you're a weekend warrior, you've probably strained, sprained or pulled something playing sports. And if you're a professional athlete, getting hurt can mean millions of dollars in lost wages and games. Now there's a simple treatment that's getting stars and average Joes back in the game.

All-pro receiver Hines Ward suffered a severely strained knee ligament in the AFC championship. He received the treatment, and just two weeks later, he made two catches in the Super Bowl.

"The science is basically, we're taking your own blood, so nobody has a bad reaction to it, we're spinning it down, we're taking out the platelet layer, which has these growth factors, which your body uses to heal tissue, and we're kind of concentrating these growth factors in an area that either needs a little help, or hasn't healed well, and rekindling a healing response," said Dr. Brian Halpern of Hospital for Special Surgery. "We're letting your body do the work, with your own cells."

Here's how it's done.

Larry Lipson has suffered from painful tennis elbow for months. Dr. Halpern takes a tube of his blood, spins it down in the centrifuge, then draws off the plasma that rises to the top, which is simply injected into the injured area.

This plasma is rich in platelets, tiny blood-clotting cells that secrete healing growth factors and may even recruit stem cells that regenerate injured tendons and ligaments.

"And in some cases we go from torn tendon to normal looking tendon," Halpern said.  "This is the tendon, this black piece here, and it's supposed to attach to the bone here. This is someone who had chronic, chronic lateral epicondylitis, or chronic tennis elbow that ended up tearing the tendon."

"We did the PRP procedure one time for this patient, and then had follow up MRI done about eight months later. You can see now almost normal tendon attaching to bone. There's still some mild abnormal signal. But whereas this was completely severed before, now it looks like it's attached back to the bone and this patient is symptom free and doing great," Halpern said.

What's new is that doctors are now using this technique to treat acute or new injuries. This has such promise that some physicians see its use expanding to all sorts of problems.

Including "tendonitis, and tennis elbow, and golfer's elbow, rotator cuff tendonitis, and achilles tendonitis, and patellar tendonitis," Halpern said.

Understand that this isn't a miracle cure. The success rate for the platelet-rich plasma treatment, or PRP, is between 60 and 75 percent, and a reduction in healing time of 25 to 30 percent.

However, for a minimally invasive procedure in injuries that are notoriously hard to heal, that's pretty impressive.

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