With Spain’s superstar, Mireia Belmonte, pulling out of the Mare Nostrum series and Rome’s Sette Colli Trophy as a precautionary measure for a shoulder injury she incurred in early May, news is coming out regarding exactly what type of treatment the two-time Olympic silver medalist is seeking.
According to the Spanish news source Nataccion.com, Bemonte has undergone a relatively new procedure involving stem cells. Although there are several variations of the procedure and the specifics of Belmonte’s regimen have not been disclosed, the high-level methodology involves surgeons first arthroscopically removing the patient’s bone marrow and then culturing the tissue in order to produce millions of new cartilage cells. Then, in a subsequent, more open surgery approximately 6-8 weeks later, surgeons inject these cultured cells into the damage site (i.e., a shoulder). Studies show that the stem cells and bone marrow “trick the body into healing more completely and efficiently.”
The procedure is similar to one undergone by American sprinter Dara Torres before the 2012 Olympic Trials.
Belmonte owns two career Olympic silver medals, both from 2012, which makes her the first Spanish swimmer ever to do so. In total, her resume has 7 World Championships and 13 European Championships, and currently holds 5 World Records: more than any woman in the current books.
Interestingly, Belmonte would not be the only elite Spanish athlete to have undergone some form of stem cell treatment, as tennis player Rafael Nadal has undergone the process for both knee and back injuries. Specifically for his back, Nadal’s doctors put the stem cells extracted from Nadal “in the point of pain with the goal of ‘regenerating cartilage and producing an anti-imflammatory effect.”
As beneficial as the treatment appears, it is certainly not without controversy. Nataccion.com reports that the “stem cell treatment has been linked to the so-called gene doping because its application may pose an artificial increase in muscle mass”, although the site is sure to note this is not the case with Belmonte.
Scientific American also says that “Even a syringe of one’s own stem cells taken from one part of the body and squirted into another “may multiply, form tumors, or may leave the site you put them in and migrate somewhere else.”
Nevertheless, the Spanish champion is still scheduled to swim a loaded six event schedule at the FINA World Championships in July, as well as continuing her quest to qualify for Rio 2016.