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Plasma Injection: Blood Doping by Another Name?

While the Yankees were hosting the Red Sox for the first time at the new Yankee Stadium last night, a man they expected to be in their starting outfield, Xavier Nady, was preparing to undergo a new procedure that could rapidly speed his recovery from a torn ulnar collateral ligament. The question is whether the procedure is eerily similar to banned blood doping ... and whether it should be legal at all.

The new treatment is called platelet-rich plasma injection, where doctors take blood from the patient, spin it to isolate platelets and then inject the platelets directly into the area of the injury, which helps promote clotting and a faster recovery time. The procedure was used successfully on Takashi Saito this winter when he was suffering from a near identical tear of the ulnar ligament in his elbow. The procedure helped Saito avoid Tommy John surgery and return to training, which landed him a deal with the Red Sox ... which are trying to knock off Nady's Yankees. Funny how life's little ironies work that way, isn't it?

Nady told Peter Abraham of the Journal News that the procedure is particularly painful because of the needles used to re-inject the platelets into affected areas. What neither Abraham or Nady addressed -- and what we should all think more about -- is whether the treatment should be considered legal in the first place.

In competitive cycling, adding red blood cells to one's circulatory system is the most serious of all crimes, with blood transfusions increasing the aerobic capacity of cyclists for key stages in important races. Naturally, this medical procedure is to speed recovery, not get a competitive advantage. But, if the use of steroids for recovery is adjudicated just as harshly as their use for enhancement, why would the use of blood extracts be any different?

It's a legitimate question, and one which -- personally -- I think needs to be addressed post haste. If Major League Baseball tries to outlaw the procedure via some revisionist edict two years from now, the actions of Saito, Nady and whoever tries the platement theory next will be cast in the same negative light as players using it when its illegal. That's not fair to Saito, Nady or any other players.

What do people think? Should the procedure be allowed because it's a legitimate medical treatment? Or are we treading on dangerous grounds by allowing players to undergo treatment that's eerily similar to what's outlawed by other sports?

By Cameron Smith  |  May 5, 2009; 11:51 AM ET
Categories:  Yankees  
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". . . this medical procedure is to speed recovery, not get a competitive advantage."

That, I think, is key to why this is different from blood-doping in cycling. It's also different from steroid use because the platelets come from the athlete's own body. Having said that, I would want to know a lot more about how this procedure works, how long the effect lasts, etc. before passing judgment on it.

Sadly, I don't think MLB will be at all proactive about dealing with (or even learning about) this new procedure. Their preferred stance is "head in sand" at all times.

Posted by: EinDC | May 5, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Great post, Cameron. Very thoughtful.

I share E's skepticism about MLB's response, however.

Posted by: JohninMpls | May 5, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Plasma with platelets sounds like they've specifically excluded red cells, which are used in blood doping. Platelets don't carry oxygen, so no change in the person's endurance. There's no real similarity to blood doping in my opinion.

Sounds like a great treatment to me, concentrating the person's own resources on the problem - has to be better in the long run than drugs. One of the problems in connective tissue injuries is that there isn't enough blood flow in the vicinity to nourish the area of injury, which this remedies.

This is just an educated guess though. I don't actually know anything about the treatment beyond this blog post.


Posted by: utec | May 5, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Why should blood dopoing be illegal in baseball anyway? Does it actually give you a competitive advantage in the sort of sport where you are just standing around most of the time? Steroids and HGH are banned because their specifically performance enhancing and have negative long term health affects. What would be the bad long term health consequences of being injected with part of your own blood?

Posted by: Dremit97 | May 6, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

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