Is Gene Doping the Next Sports Scandal?

By: , , Filed in: News

Many reading this will already be aware of the various banned substances that some athletes use to gain the upper hand on their fellow competitors, notably the banned blood booster EPO, various types of steroids, growth hormones and many others. The drug testers and various anti-doping authorities always seem to be chasing the cheat, preparing themselves for the next generation of banned substances about to enter the ‘black market’.

There have been many discussions about ‘gene doping’ and how improvements in science and medicine will bring additional banned performance enhancers into the sporting arena. Yet, there is no hard evidence to prove that gene doping actually exists or will ever be seen to illegally boost a performance.

Theoretically, athletes who were to gene dope, would modify or enhance their gene structure, enabling them to perform better, possibly even adding genes to themselves. Alarmingly, it will happen, but we don’t know when.

Several years ago, a German coach was discovered trying to obtain a gene treatment that ‘encouraged’ the body to produce it’s own erythropoietin but there is now a test in place to detect such a treatment.

Although ‘gene doping’ would clearly be illegal in the sporting sense, it has major benefits in the world of medicine to aid certain gene deficiencies prevalent in many individuals. Gene therapy is in it’s infancy, still to be tried and tested to see if it is safe. Yet how many young athletes will be asked to use such a treatment for doping purposes, even before it is safe to do so? We have seen many deaths within cycling, many linked to the use of EPO, especially in the early 90′s. How many young athletes will have to suffer at the hands of unscrupulous suppliers who want the next stage win or yellow jersey?

Speaking in a recent interview, Dr. Theodore Friedmann, Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Gene Doping Expert Group said “We know of course that in sport, people who want to circumvent rules and regulations and who want to cheat won’t wait for all the technical issues to be solved and all the I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed, and will not pay much attention to ethical standards of doing things to human beings. So, there will be cheating – and I’m afraid that the misuse of these methods that we know from gene therapy that they are not perfect and that they do carry enormous risks under some conditions.”

Dr. Theodore Friedmann went on, “I think all primitive societies have some kind of competition, athletic competition. And so there’s something really basic about sport that one really needs to honor. And to say that there’s nothing different with sport and that one can simply let it be driven by biotechnology and by the most clever sort of biologists lurking in the shadows, I think that’s very sad and certainly destroys our concept of sport.”

Friedman believes that advances in the testing procedures will be able to detect any gene doping, should it occur, but will tests be available before the cheating athletes are able to take advantage of it’s benefits?



  • 1

    nidia 05.03.2012 at 05:04am


  • 2

    nidia 05.03.2012 at 05:03am


  • 3

    mikroos 13.02.2010 at 11:12pm

    Honestly, it is not a problem to gene-dope even today. It only takes an idiot brave enough to try out a procedure that has not been thoroughly tested yet. The idea of a perfectly undetectable method of doping is simple: you need to stimulate production of EPO (or any other substance) outside of blood cells (which is not a problem at all) to make the extra copy of EPO gene undetectable via blood test (taking samples from solid tissues such as muscles would jeopardize athletes' performance and is therefore unacceptable). What is more, there's a lot of ready-to-use genetic systems which allow precise adjustments of gene's activity (which means you can easily adjust the amount of circulating EPO). As I said, technically it is not a problem today and it only takes a person stupid enough to try this out. Sad - or even VERY sad - but true. And what is even worse, I don't even feel like I make it easier for potential dopers - the idea is so simple that anyone working in a genetic/biotechnological lab could tell you this.

  • 4

    BikePure Italia 09.02.2010 at 10:12pm

    The German coach Thomas Springsteen was discovered 2 years ago trying to obtain a gene delivery treatment that turns on the body's erythropoietin production, to be used by cheats in endurance sports. Doping without the injections! - Actually altering the individual human’s DNA index, is at the forefront of bioresearch. Repoxygen, was said to be the gene therapy material being developed by a British company that Springsteen was after. The essence of gene therapy is not the EPO hormone itself, but augmenting the ‘gene’ that produces it, to make more. It's been possible to put a gene into a virus, a disabled virus that acts as a kind of a moving van to put that gene into cells- therefore multiplying the effect. That material was intended to treat people with chronic kidney disease and with cancers, for people who are unable to make good amounts of red blood cells themselves. Rumors have been floating around for years since research scientists started working on it. Gene therapy even raised it’s mysterious head back at the 2000 Olympics, when the US swim team head coach blindly accused the Australian government and Swimming Australia of using genetic manipulation and HGH on Ian Thorpe as a child . Hype or reality- we don't know currently if Gene augmentation has actually evolved to the point where it is being abused by any real athletes, but it's quite clear that the world of sport is very much aware of what's going on in gene therapy. BikePure will keep you up to date.

  • 5

    uberVU - social comments 09.02.2010 at 12:49am

    Social comments and analytics for this post... This post was mentioned on Twitter by scotteek: great read, great cause to fight for , check them out RT @BikePure: Is Gene Doping the Next Sports Scandal?

  • 6

    This Day in Doping: Lance, Vaughters, Does doping matter? and football players « Bike Intelligencer 08.02.2010 at 11:32pm

    [...] Anyone up for gene doping? Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)This Day in DopingDaily Roundup: More Interbike, [...]

Write your comment