Golfing great Jack Nicklaus has disclosed that he has used stem cell therapy to treat his chronic back pain and has seen an improvement. Nicklaus said the treatment didn’t immediately provide relief, but the pain did subside within a few months.
Nicklaus is a true sports legends, winning 120 professional tournaments and holding a record 18 major-championship titles. He is also one of only 16 individuals ever to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal for outstanding achievements in sports and philanthropy.
The 78-year-old Golden Bear has suffered through chronic back pain for much of his competitive professional career and retirement. At some times, the back pain was severe enough to force him to withdraw from tournaments. Nicklaus reportedly tried a wide variety of therapies to treat his back pain, including cortisol injections and a back operation.
Nicklaus met German stem cell pioneer Dr. Eckhard Alt at a birthday party in December 2015 and subsequently agreed to undergo an experimental therapy using adipose stem cells at the Isar Klinikum in Munich, Germany. Alt said Nicklaus’ facet joint syndrome made him a perfect candidate for the procedure. He advised Nicklaus that the therapy would be the lowest risk way of treating him, saying, “For this back pain there was no other option without side effects or risks.”
The main advantage of adipose tissue-derived stem cells is that they can be easily harvested multiple times using minimally invasive techniques. A previous study carried out among 20 patients with osteoarthritis found that pain among patients had dropped from severe to mild after two years and they had a significant increase in activity post treatment. Further data will be collected from an FDA approved clinical trial currently being undertaken at Sanford Health in the U.S.
In the procedure performed on Nicklaus, local anesthesia and light sedation were administered before the doctor performed a liposuction to extract three ounces of fat from his abdomen area. This fat tissue was strained with an enzyme called Matrase to release large numbers of the pure stem cells without modifying or changing the nature of the cells.
After a quick check for contamination, the cells were injected back into the body. Nicklaus received 10 injections on each side of his lower back, and four in his neck. Nicklaus was so pleased with the results that he is now scheduled to have another treatment done, to his right shoulder this time. The shoulder therapy won’t be cheap, costing about $10,000 US for the treatment, plus travel and accommodations.