In recent years there have been rapid developments in the use of growth factors for accelerated healing of injury. Growth factors have been used in maxillo-facial and plastic surgery with success and the technology is now being developed for orthopaedics and sports medicine applications. Growth factors mediate the biological processes necessary for repair of soft tissues such as muscle, tendon and ligament following acute traumatic or overuse injury, and animal studies have demonstrated clear benefits in terms of accelerated healing. There are various ways of delivering higher doses of growth factors to injured tissue, but each has in common a reliance on release of growth factors from blood platelets. Platelets contain growth factors in their α-granules (insulin-like growth factor-1, basic fibroblast growth factor, platelet-derived growth factor, epidermal growth factor, vascular endothelial growth factor, transforming growth factor-β1) and these are released upon injection at the site of an injury. Three commonly utilised techniques are known as platelet-rich plasma, autologous blood injections and autologous conditioned serum. Each of these techniques has been studied clinically in humans to a very limited degree so far, but results are promising in terms of earlier return to play following muscle and particularly tendon injury. The use of growth factors in sports medicine is restricted under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) anti-doping code, particularly because of concerns regarding the insulin-like growth factor-1 content of such preparations, and the potential for abuse as performance-enhancing agents. The basic science and clinical trials related to the technology are reviewed, and the use of such agents in relation to the WADA code is discussed.
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