Controversial drug’s reputation in sports doping is one of many obstacles
Mark Cuban, the high-profile entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team, has decided to fund a first-of-its-kind clinical trial that is examining whether human growth hormone (HGH) can aid recovery from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery, according to ESPN.com. The December 2015 article specifies that, “The two-year, $800,000 exploratory study at the University of Michigan is backed by a single grant from Cuban’s eponymous foundation and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under a special exemption.”
Special exemptions from the FDA don’t raise a lot of confidence in a drug’s viability, especially one with a reputation like HGH.
“Most sports fans know HGH as a drug banned for its performance-enhancing effects and at least temporarily toxic to the reputations of athletes who have confessed to using it, like Bill Romanowski and Jason Giambi,” says the author. She also notes that former New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte has insisted he used it solely to recover from elbow injury— “a commonly held but scientifically unproven rationale.”
“Recombinant HGH is a pharmaceutical hot button, controversially championed by the anti-aging industry and still poorly understood in many ways,” says the premier sports website. It points out that the drug’s legal uses are restricted in the U.S., and thus its commercial potential and research into “possible new therapeutic applications” are limited.
“The Michigan study could begin to pull HGH from the shadows if, as the researchers hope, it helps prevent the muscles around the knee joint from weakening to a point of no return,” according to ESPN.com.
The real problem that HGH may be able to treat is muscle atrophy. As the Mark Cuban interviewer explains, some of the world’s best athletes depend “on the marvelous anatomical fulcrum of their lower quadriceps muscles.”
More specifically, doctors and researchers believe that the swelling and subsequent release of synovial fluid after injuries to the ACL cause the loss of muscle mass that athletes “spend years painstakingly building,” according to the website. Though ACL surgery and post-op therapy have advanced much in recent years, they have not been able to clear the persistent hurdle of consistent strength improvement over the course of nine to 18 months’ rehabilitation.
The lead researcher for the Michigan clinical trial, molecular and integrative physiology Ph.D. Christopher Mendias, and his partner on the project, Dr. Asheesh Bedi, tell ESPN.com that “it’s time for HGH to be carefully and seriously explored as a possible solution to the most frustrating aspect of the roughly 250,000 ACL reconstructions performed annually in the United States.”
It seems clear that a “rebranding” of HGH as an effective, legal treatment will be necessary if the trial is successful at Michigan. That could make the onboarding of the always-quotable Texan doubly beneficial for the research team. Mark Cuban certainly would be loud and proud to say “HGH is no longer just a banned substance in sports. We have found a safe, effective, and legal way in which it can benefit people who’ve suffered ACL injuries.”