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'Gene Doping' May Be Next Wave of Sports Tampering
Date:2/4/2010

Genetic manipulation may soon become a hard-to-detect way for athletes to cheat, researchers say

THURSDAY, Feb. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Just in time for the Winter Olympics, scientists are warning of a new breed of performance-enhancing agents that use cutting-edge genetic technology and may be particularly hard to detect.

Some researchers are already fielding inquiries from athletes and trainers who want to know how they can modify genes to boost endurance or muscle mass, to speed injury healing or to alter pain perception, according to an article in the Feb. 5 issue of Science.

"If the researcher says it's not ready for use in humans and has to go to clinical trials first, the comeback from the coach is, 'Well, maybe we can use my athlete as your human subject,'" said article co-author Mark Frankel, director of the scientific freedom, responsibility and law program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C.

Not only is "gene doping" cheating, it could be dangerous, Frankel said. Altering genes is considered highly risky and experimental, with who-knows-what consequences if the intended effect goes awry.

"We are worried," Frankel said. "We think the kinds of advances that are happening on the medical front to treat various diseases or even injuries will be embraced and tried by athletes and their coaches looking for the next competitive edge."

The World Anti-Doping Agency is well aware of the potential for genetically modified athletes, said Dr. Theodore Friedmann, director of the gene therapy program at University of California, San Diego, and chair of the gene doping panel for the World Anti-Doping Agency in Montreal.

Genetic therapy is among the most promising new strategies for treating disease, Friedmann said. Genetic therapists in hundreds of labs around the world are researching, mostly in animal models, h
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