GENE DOPING- THE FUTURE OF CHEATING?
Submitted by-SIDDHARTH GOSAIN
GENE DOPING- THE FUTURE OF CHEATING?-
Gene doping is defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency as “The non-therapeutic use of genes, genetic elements and/or cells that have the capacity to enhance athletic performance.’’ It is a process which can typically alter a person’s DNA to fight diseases like muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis. However once the genes are inserted in the athlete genome, the gene would be expressed and produce an endogenous product capable of improving performance of an athlete.An experiment was performed on a transgenic mouse who exhibited more endurance and strength but also showed aggressiveness, hyperactivity and changes in cardiac functioning. Gene doping is different from gene therapy as the former is not used to replace an absent or a dysfunctional protein in an unhealthy individual but to artificially alter the gene expression in an individual Scientists experimented with genes that produce insulin growth factor 1 which helps the muscles to grow and repair themselves and could be used by the athletes in the future. In gene therapy a synthetic gene can be added to muscle inside a vector which will carry the gene into nucleus where it can begin directing the fiber to produce a protein. The most likely methods by which gene doping might be attempted relate to three areas of physiology and their molecular regulation, namely formation of skeletal muscle, oxygen supply, and energy supply. Presently there are no proven cases of gene doping but it is a likely threat in the future when gene therapy enters the medical mainstream as we have witnessed many athletes in their quest for aggrandizement are willing to quench their thirst for glory by injecting performance enhancing drugs despite knowing about the hazardous effects of such drugs on human body. The detection of gene doping would be a tedious task as it is nearly impossible to differentiate between the proteins having the same structure and function, and produced in the same place by same cellular machinery.
The Medical Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) met for the first time to discuss the potential impact of gene therapy in sports.The World Anti Doping Agency became involved in the fight against genetic doping in 2002.It organised a workshop on gene doping in New York where experts, scientists, athletes and representatives from the Olympic movement and governments came together and examined the issue. Conference participants issued a series of conclusions, including a call for the inclusion of gene doping on the Prohibited List, which occurred a year later. They also called for governments to expedite the development of a global social framework for the application of genetic transfer technologies that address the potential misuse of these technologies in sport and a publicly stated deadline for the adoption of that framework. At that conference, WADA also pledged to devote more resources to research projects dedicated to gene doping.To that end, WADA is now sponsoring five distinct projects on how best to detect gene doping. Wada took a huge leap by forming an Expert group on gene doping in 2004 with the primary objective of studying and devising methods for detecting gene doping. The Gene and Cell Doping Expert Group also gives direction to the Health, Medical and Research Committee in relation to the threat of gene doping by developing strategies to prevent and detect non-therapeutic manipulation of gene/protein in sport.The panel also encourages research in the field of detecting gene doping.
A second workshop was held in 2005 by Wada in collaboration with the Karolinska Institute and Swedish Sports Confederation in Stockholm and in the third conference organized in cooperation with the Russian sport authorities a third meeting was held where the participants discussed advances in gene transfer therapies, 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.
WADA committed itself in increasing the volume of research dedicated in developing new and improved detection methods for prohibited substances and methods, along with the study for emerging doping threats, such as gene doping. WADA issues a call for research proposals each year. Scientists from around the world submit proposals addressing the research topics prioritized by WADA’s Health, Medical and Research Committee It might be difficult to see that a particular gene has been added to the body, but there will be consequences to that addition that can be seen and measured. For example, the gene will express itself and produce more of a particular protein or enzyme, which can be detected and measured just as in the case of drug-based doping. The effects of that new and foreign substance will have an effect on the body that also can be detected. The vast majority of the 2 research projects currently being supported by the WADA are aimed at identifying deviations from normal physiological conditions as indirect evidence of gene doping. This involves the determination of highly differentiated profiles of all sorts of molecules such as DNA, RNA, proteins in blood and tissue samples, so-called biomarkers or molecular fingerprints with the objective of developing an intelligent form of bio monitoring which provides unambiguous evidence of manipulated gene activity.
Gene therapy seems to be a revolutionary therapeutic technique in medicine however the likelihood of its misuse in form of gene doping cannot be ruled out. The gene therapy used by the injured athletes would still strongly influence the game. The detection of gene doping would be an excruciating process and the present system of in and out of competition testing would have to be expanded. The detection of gene doping will put more pressure on the sports jurisdiction as compared with the current doping practices. The procedure for its detection must be well founded in order to mitigate the legal issues which may arise thereof. The current methods of doping detection are not enough to detect gene doping hence regular advancement in research and technology is imperative. There is a need for sociological, behavorial and ethical research with specific regards to gene doping.