Test for gene doping is major plus for fight against drug use in sport
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Test for gene doping is major plus for fight against drug use in sport

by Conal Andrews at 7:06 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
Cycling and other sports stand to gain from successful research

gene dopingFour years' research and almost a million dollars in funding from WADA has led to German scientists developing a test which has huge implications for safeguarding the future of clean sport.

Researchers at universities in Tübingen and Mainz have come up with an examination which can show simply and clearly if athletes have been using gene doping in an effort to gain unfair advantages. This form of doping has shown major results in tests on animals, and it was feared that it would be undetectable for many years.

However WADA funding, determination by the scientists in question plus some close co-operation has netted an exciting result, and unethical manipulation can now be detected for almost two months after the doping was carried out.

“For the first time, a direct method is now available that uses conventional blood samples to detect doping via gene transfer,” said Professor Perikles Simon, MD, PhD of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, according to Science Daily.

“It is still effective if the actual doping took place up to 56 days before. This represents a relatively low-cost method of detecting several of the most common doping genes.”

Gene therapist Professor Michael Bitzer, MD from the University Hospital of the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingensaid said that the quick development of a test was a major boost to the world of sport.

“It was previously thought that it would only be possible to detect gene doping via gene transfer using an extremely costly indirect test procedure from the field of molecular medicine," he stated

However the new test provides a clear indication if a form of DNA called transgenic DNA is present in blood samples. This is DNA which has an external source and which has been transferred into the body, perhaps with the use of viruses helping it to take hold, in order to effect the desired changes.

Once that is done, the modified DNA stimulates the body to produce the substances required; for example, it is possible to force the body to produce excessive natural EPO, thus stimulating a rise in hematocrit. As this is produced within the body itself, it won’t trigger positive results for recombinant EPO.

Other forms of gene doping have been shown to greatly increase muscular strength or endurance in animal studies. It is not known if it has yet been exploited in top-level sport.

Four years ago, while a member of the University Hospital in Tübingen, Simon developed a test which revealted even miniscule traces of transgenic DNA to be detected in the blood. These could be found two months after the genes were injected.

Now, tests run on blood samples taken from 327 pro and recreational athletes have proven the new procedure works very well. Simon sees this as an important step forward for sport. “At the very least, the risk of being discovered months after the gene transfer has taken place should deter even the most daring dopers," he told Science Daily.

Testing strategies and methods are becoming more sophisticated, with programmes such as the UCI’s biological passport making things more difficult for those who wish to cut corners. This latest news provides further encouragement to fans, the testing bodies and the riders themselves who want to ensure that a clean future is possible.


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