Right Turn: Riding high with stem cells

Author: Lisa Willemse, 06/06/14

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Cycling season is in full gear and for the rapidly growing number of enthusiasts, it means many miles on tarmac and trail, Strava leaderboard competitions and various degrees of obsession with the world’s major races. I’m not much of a road rider (give me a rock, root or mud-infested trail any day), but I do marvel at what the pro cyclists put themselves through – doping scandals notwithstanding – in order to stand on a podium at the end of a 10 or 20 day race. This year’s Giro was no exception, and what I found most interesting about the finish was not just Nairo Quintana‘s incredible, tour-winning climbing abilities, but the rather curious fact that Columbian riders performed remarkably well in the race, placing first and second in the overall standings and capturing four of the top 10 places in the mountains classification.

It would seem that there is something about the Columbian riders that gives them an edge over the rest of the field (let’s hope it’s not drug related; even if it is there could be a stem cell connection). A little digging on Quintana will tell you that he came from a rural village in the Andes, located at an elevation of 2,800 metres (9,250 feet) and that, in part due to poverty, he would bike 16 kilometres (one way) to school and back on a second-hand mountain bike, ending the day with a steep and treacherous climb back to his house. One wonders if the other Columbian riders have similar backstories.

All of which leads me to the point of this post: the role of stem cells in sport. If Quintana’s background and prowess are any indication, training, and specifically, high-altitude training might be giving him an edge. These two topics were recently profiled in the first of a newly released video series from the incredible people at Hope Beyond Hype and EuroStemCell. Look for more to come in this series in the near future; for now enjoy two on altitude training and muscle growth/repair.

Our regular feature, Right Turn, showcases the “lighter” side of stem cells and regenerative medicine. Every Friday, we will bring you cartoons, photos, videos and other content that may be just as thought provoking as the written submissions that you are used to finding here, but they definitely won’t be blogs.

As always, we welcome your feedback and we also welcome suitable submissions. Be creative! Use the right (!) side of your brain. Make us laugh! Let’s see if we can make this new direction a positive one for all of us. Send your submission to info(at)ccrm.ca.

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Lisa Willemse

Lisa Willemse

Lisa is a science communicator with 15+ years' experience in the fields of regenerative medicine, language and literacy and high-speed networking/computing research. She launched this blog (first as the Stem Cell Network Blog) in 2009, and served as co-editor until April 2015. Among many other roles, she currently contributes to a number of blogs and publications, including the Canadian Science Publishing blog, Genome Alberta blog, Scientific American, and iPolitics. Follow her on Twitter @WillemseLA.
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