Gene manipulation the future of doping in sport

Continuing scientific advances in our understanding of the human genome will make it even more difficult for anti-doping agencies to catch athletes choosing to improve performance beyond the legal and ethical boundaries of their sport, according to a sports exercise expert from the University of Western Sydney.

Dr Jason Siegler is an exercise physiologist and a researcher in sports performance who has extensively published in areas surrounding nutrition supplementation.

Dr Siegler says the real test for doping and illegal substance detection will come in the near future as more understanding of the genetic factors related to performance are uncovered by the research community.

"Imagine a sporting environment where performance is determined by unnaturally 'switching on' the genes that determine your speed, agility and performance, boosting your performance and giving you an edge you wouldn't otherwise have," says Dr Siegler.

"I would be surprised if this wasn't possible within a generation, and it will be incredibly difficult for the anti-doping authorities to distinguish between a 'natural' ability and one that has been scientifically manufactured."

Dr Siegler says it's hard enough to currently police the use of peptides that are synthetically developed to enhance human growth hormone (HGH), a naturally occurring hormone in the body partially responsible for muscle growth.

"Currently many of the doping agents may be synthetic variations of normally occurring peptides that stimulate muscle growth, which makes it far more difficult to prove an athlete is ingesting drugs to increase their muscle mass and improve performance," he says.

"Considering the wide variety of peptides that are now easily accessible via the internet, the simple fact is that performance related research can't keep up with all these so-called performance enhancers which are being trialled and exploited by some in the elite sporting community."

Dr Siegler says a future consideration for all professional sports might be to adopt a similar approach to that of cycling, where riders now are required to have a 'doping passport.'

"The idea behind the passport is to regularly monitor each individuals blood profile in able to detect any extraordinary changes away from the athletes normal profile," he says.

"Ultimately, however, it will be the individual sports governing bodies' responsibility to instil a change of culture and emphasise the importance of monitoring performance enhancing drugs."


11 February 2013

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer

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