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This article is from the In-Depth Report Science at the Winter Olympics
60-Second Science

Genetic Doping Next Athletic Cheat

Researchers writing in the journal Science discuss the threat to athletic integrity posed by genetic doping--gene therapy to enhance performance--as well as efforts to test for it. Cynthia Graber reports

The Vancouver Olympics begin February 12th. And scientists are on high alert. Not just for well-known ways to gain an advantage, like steroids or blood doping. The researchers are also worried about what’s called genetic doping. It’s the latest in elite athletic cheating.

Researchers writing in the journal Science point to a few different types of gene therapy that could get hijacked for athletics instead of medical uses, like the treatment of obesity, diabetes or muscle disease. For example, genes for insulin-like growth factor could enhance muscle mass. And molecules that regulate the expression of genes may make athletes more energy efficient, or help create more slow-twitch muscle fibers.

It’s known that in the past few years, a coach in Germany and a lab in China have tried to get these kinds of therapies into the hands of competitors. So the scientific community wants to get ahead of this by figuring out what molecular signatures might be left in cheaters’ bodies after genetic doping.

The researchers do point out that these treatments have so far only been able to produce “faster or stronger mice.” But that doesn’t mean somebody getting an Olympic medal isn’t a rat.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

For more, see Athlete alert: Is genetic juicing set to replace steroids?

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