Genetic technology in doping and doping detection
Advances in genetic technology are permitting application in at least two areas relevant to doping in Sport. The first is derived directly from successful development of the new form of medicine called gene therapy – the use of genes and genetic elements to treat human disease. This conceptually new area of Medicine was proposed initially almost 4 decades ago and has finally proven to be clinically successful in several life–threatening or debilitating diseases including forms of immunodeficiency, blindness and neurodegeneration. The same methods used for therapy of these intractable diseases are potentially directly applicable to the genetic enhancement of normal human traits that have the potential for enhancing athletic performance. It is not certain if such methods have been applied in human athletes but it seems inevitable that such attempts will be made, in all likelihood in ways that are initially scientifically un-rigorous, hazardous and inconsistent with precepts of ethical standards of human research.
A second area of genetic application in Sport comes through the use of powerful high throughput methods of genomic and proteomic characterization or accessible tissues and fluids to identify “molecular signatures” that are diagnostic of exposure of cells or organisms to potential doping agents. Research advances in such methods are rapidly being made and candidate molecular signatures are likely to become available in the near future.
These two areas of technical advance reflect the ongoing struggle between surreptitious and unsafe use of genetic technology to deceive and the use of powerful new genetic tools to detect cheating in Sport. It will be a long and persistent struggle.