With the winter Olympics in full swing I thought an article on performance enhancing therapies might be an interesting topic for discussion. In 2004, the human genome was completely decoded. Since then, individuals have discovered a new way to manipulate the genome in a method called gene doping. This methodology offers the opportunity for athletes to enhance their performance in a way that cannot be detected by the current day performance enhancing drug tests used to detect steroids.
Gene doping is a treatment in which a change is made that purposely alters an individual’s DNA though various ways such as pills and injections. One gene doping method that has currently been seen to be successful is to inject rodents with IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, a chemical manipulation of naturally occurring IGF. When this chemical is injected into rodents it causes the muscles that are ruptured during exercise to heal quicker thus allowing the animal to exercise more. Therefore, should this process be applied to human models it would allow them to lift more weights since their muscles are healing faster . It is also believed that IGF-1 can boost that initial strength and healing process in muscles as well as artificially block myostatin production. This would allow the muscle to keep growing in strength without putting in half the effort as would normally be needed.
Beyond the realm of IGF-1 injections, the option of pills exists. That’s right imagine taking a pill the size of a vitamin. You could go to sleep looking like Jack Black, and wake up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. This treatment option has already been utilized to make pills such as the synthetic protein called Aicar. This synthetic compound was shown to enhance rodents who did not regularly exercise endurance by 44% in four short weeks. On the other hand another artificial compound GW1516, improved endurance capability by 75%.
So now that we know the technology exists for illegal gene doping to occur the question of how can we treat or prevent it from occurring arises. Many obstacles exist with testing for these compounds, which ultimately makes the concept of gene doping more attractive to the individuals who want to cheat. Just think now instead of using fourteen year olds passed on as eighteen years olds, the gymnasts can just take miracle gene doping pills making them agile as ever. That’s good news for China….........just kidding.
One issue that exists with testing is the ability to determine a difference in gene make-up without an athlete's genetic code already on file for comparison. The only feasible way right now to conquer such an issue would be to have a urine and blood bank for athletes. Although this solution seems improbable and complicated it has actually been announced that it will be used for the London 2012 Olympics.
Although most of the debate for gene doping comes from the notion that it is immoral and unethical, serious health risks exist for those who use such drugs. The biggest risk sited is that it is unclear to scientists how a gene mutation could be stopped once started.
So is it worth the risk? Some say athletes have the right to prepare for a match by using whatever technology they want. However, it seems rather ridiculous that gene doping would be supported as a technological option when such up roar has already occurred the genetically perfect basketball player Yao Ming. Whatever the case, I’m sure athletes such as Apollo Anton Ohno and Lebron James will continue to amaze the sports enthusiasts for years to come. The question however exists as to whether the athletic amazement will come through natural hard work or through artificial compounds. I guess the answer will come when swimmers start appearing with webbed hands and feet, and runners can sprint at twice the normal human speed. So not only will opponents be mad to see Michael Phelps in the lane next to them, but imagine he has frog like hands. This sounds like the myth of super hero tales yet with gene doping, it’s possible.