Gene Doping

The advances in gene therapy have been huge. There is a recent article in Sports Illustrated outlining the current state of the technology. It does have medical application, e.g. reversing or limiting muscle wasting diseases. The scientists behind this research report being contacted after publication by many athletes/coaches, included a high school coach offering his team as “lab rat”. The 2 genes in question, as I recall it, code for the products: insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF 1), and a myostatin blocker. The 1st gene does what it says: promotes growth. Lab rats on this therapy end up like little bulls carrying weighted back packs up ladders. The other gene blocks the normal product that shuts off muscle deposition. Animals that naturally have this gene (steers / dogs) are called “double muscle”. Info on this can be found here: pubmedcentral.nih.gov

The IGF 1 research was conducted by lab director H. Lee Sweeney at University of Pennsylvania for anyone that is interested.

Both therapies are a long ways off from being detectable. The delivery vector is a common virus. The only indication of gene doping in this manner would be the presence of this virus or the antibodies to it – both which occur naturally.

This is why I feel a cultural shift in mentality is the only solution to the current imbalances in sport.

This (below) came out today (6-12-08) in cyclingnews.com

WADA Gene Doping Symposium calls for greater awareness

The third Gene Doping Symposium organised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, from June 10-11, has come to an end. Participants concluded by calling for greater interactions among the sports community, professional scientific organisations, licensing agencies and clinical research oversight bodies to stimulate awareness of the potential illicit use of gene transfer techniques for athletic and other enhancement purposes, and to develop appropriate sanction mechanisms for illegal or unethical application of gene transfer in sport.

The meeting was the third such meeting sponsored by WADA following on those held in 2002 in New York, USA, and in 2005 in Stockholm, Sweden. The Saint Petersburg symposium gathered more than 60 participants from 16 countries and included experts in gene transfer, scientists from the field of anti-doping and representatives from sports and public authorities.

Participants discussed advances in gene transfer therapies and in the development of detection methods for the potential misuse of gene transfer in sport, boundaries between therapy and enhancement from both technical and ethical perspectives, as well as legal frameworks and law enforcement issues relating to gene doping.

“Most experts do not think that gene transfer is being misused by athletes yet, but we know that there is a growing level of interest in the sports world in the potential for gene doping, and that scientists working on potential genetic cures for muscle diseases or blood disorders are being approached by sports figures to inquire about the use of genes to enhance performance in sport,” said WADA Vice President Prof. Arne Ljungqvist. “We need to make sure that athletes know the dangers associated with these technologies, and, for those who may choose to ignore them and cheat, that they will be caught.”

One example of gene doping possibly already being carried out in pro cycling are hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) stabilizers. HIF activates the gene producing natural Erythropoietin (EPO) during hypoxic conditions – when the blood is low of oxygen. “Once the body has reached normal oxygen levels again, HIF is decomposed. But HIF stabilizers make the factor continue its job: stimulate the production of natural EPO even when there is no need for it anymore,” explained Patrick Diel, gene doping expert at the Centre for Preventive Doping Research in Cologne, Germany, to tour.ard.de.

HIF stabilizers would be easier to use than artificial EPO injections, as they come as a pill. “With this pill, hematocrit increases – without the use of artificial EPO. As the EPO is produced naturally, it cannot be detected using the current tests,” he continued, adding that a ‘treatment’ would be dangerous. “Clinical studies carried out last year had to be abandoned prematurely, as the patients showed unacceptable side-effects. Still, other pharmaceutical companies are working on similar concepts. Now that the drug has already been tested on humans, we don’t know if it is already circulating in the sports world.”

Still, Prof. Theodore Friedmann, Head of WADA Gene Doping Panel, remained optimistic about tracking down possible gene dopers. “While detection methods are early in their development, I have no doubt that the ongoing work will catalyse public discussion and awareness in this field,” he said. “WADA will continue to be the leading agency in the application of modern molecular genetics and DNA technology to the development of improved methods for detection.”

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About Lovedawg

Tucson, Arizona, USA

13 thoughts on “Gene Doping

  1. Don’t care. How would you like to be an athlete who really, really wants to win, only to lose to someone who trained less but has superior genetics? We are not all equal. Why should someone be a prisoner to lousy genetics?

  2. why should you be? hell no…just get implants and botox and hair plugs and steroids and and and and and………

  3. If you haven’t seen Bigger Faster Stronger yet, I highly recommend it. The bull pictured above is one of the stars.

  4. I think it was Bill McKibben’s book from a few years back, “Enough” (amazon.com/Enough-Staying-Human-Engineered-Age), that pointed out how genetic engineering (GE) will subvert traditional sports. Rather than favor individual preparation and training, McKibben says future athletes will likely rely on GE to succeed. Say that your parents use GE and at conception select genes that promote larger, stronger legs or disproportionate heght. If the resulting offspring from the get-go has an unfair advantage built-in – and will test clean in other respects: no meds, no blood doping – then what is “sports”? A parade of AKC poodles? A geek show? I think Lovedawg is right in saying “a cultural shift in mentality” is what’s called for…pretty darn soon. The greater sports community should crank up discussion on this.

  5. …that looks like a lotta bull to me…just sayin’…

    …while i’m also one to agree that a “a cultural shift in mentality” is needed, by who, how & where is the line drawn…every new person & organization that comes the pike seems to have a hidden agenda that transcends their stated motives & ethics…

    …the amateur/professional divide might have been a place to start about 60 years ago but the transgressions basically begin during childhood in this day & age…for every person who wants to see clean, healthy sport, there are sports oriented family’s quite willing to give ‘junior’ whatever he needs to eventually reach the top…

    …i also agree that “the greater sports community should crank up a discussion”…perhaps we’ll end up having two camps…sports & sports entertainment…the naturals (w/ voluntary testing) & the ‘roidbots (where anything goes)…

  6. What are you guys so worried about? We’ve been GE crops & working animals for 10,000+ years.

    Don’t you think the Phinney’s kid is going to have better genetics disposed to cycling than most anyone else on the planet?

    There’s absolutely no reason to not “clean up” the human genome. Less prone to disease, aging, viruses, etc. It’s up to the sports governing bodies to decide what they allow in them.

  7. I work in the genetic industry with cattle and when I read a couple of years ago that many scientists predicted we will see the first genetically modified athletes at the Beijing games this summer I didn’t doubt it for a minute. I wouldn’t doubt if we’ve seen them already. I know the company I work for was cloning cattle long before Dolly. We just didn’t go public since there was no reason.

    Here’s a link to an article about the genetic mutation happening naturally in humans:

    query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?…

    Oh, and by the way I have eaten steaks from the Italian double muscle cattle breed called Piedmonte and they are very lean and delicious.

  8. I agree with the Phinney comparison. Tyler Phinney starts way ahead of his competition, simply because of his genetics. Even if he was a slacker, he would have an innate advantage.

    If there’s a way to overcome a genetic limitation, what’s wrong with an athlete taking it? It’s not cheating. Cheating is paying a ref or sticking a pump in an opponent’s spokes.

    An athlete shouldn’t be hampered simply because he wasn’t fortunate to have the right set of parents. I’m a supporter of all performance enhancers. Is there really a difference between a cyclist using EPO and HGH to compete and a football player eating Soma and Percocet to deal with the pain of his sport? Why, because the cyclist’s drugs have arbitrarily been deemed “illegal” but the footballer’s drugs are “phamaceutical”? Why not make everything but ibuprofen verboten? What happens to the football player who doesn’t want to live on muscle relaxants and pain killers? Who doesn’t want to get multiple cortisone shots?