Scientists raise spectre of gene-modified athletes
November 30, 2001 | Source: New Scientist
We may be watching genetically-modified (GM) athletes as soon as the Beijing Olympics in 2008, researchers say. Gene doping, in which athletes could genetically modify themselves with performance-enhancing DNA, will be almost impossible to detect, according to Peter Schjerling at the Copenhagen Muscle Research Centre in Denmark.
Schjerling believes cheats will avoid detection by injecting themselves with copies of genes naturally present in the body, such as those encoding growth factors or testosterone.
One possibility would be to inject the gene for erythropoietin (EPO), a protein that boosts red blood cell count. This allows an athlete’s blood to carry more oxygen.
Another is endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Sanjay Rajagopalan and colleagues at the University of Michigan have used a GM virus to deliver the VEGF gene to patients with peripheral atherosclerotic disease. The therapy boosts VEGF levels, which widens blood vessels.