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New Blood Treatment for Athletes Could Pose Future Problems for Sports Leagues

Posted: 02/19/09 01:56 PM ET

Pittsburgh Steelers stars Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward used, and benefitted from, groundbreaking blood treatments prior to their Super Bowl appearances this year. If there is anything to be learned from baseball's steroids fiasco it's that the major sports leagues need to start regulating the use of this procedure, and be quick about it.

The procedure, called platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP), is being used by many professional and recreational athletes and involves the re-injection of the patient's own treated blood platelets into injured areas. The influx of plasma into those areas helps encourage healing and doctors say it could take the place of surgery in some cases.

The argument for the procedure in professional sports is that it speeds up healing time, which means less wasted money for the team and maximun productivity for the player. The same could be said for human growth hormone, which has been banned by Major League Baseball despite no proof that it enhances performance.

The difference between PRP and synthetic HGH is that the former is a re-injection of a substance that occurse naturally in the human body. It then poses the issue of its difference from autologous blood doping, which is illegal in many sports and involves an athlete boosting their number of red blood cells in circulation in order to enhance athletic performance. While plasma therapy is currently being used to promote healing, it won't be long before athletes find a way to use it for performance enhancement. And by then, if league officials haven't already taken the right measures, it will be too late.