GAINESVILLE, Fla. Gene doping has the potential to spawn athletes capable of out-running, out-jumping and out-cycling the strongest of champions. But research under way at the University of Florida could help level the playing field by detecting the first cases of gene doping in professional athletes before the practice enters the mainstream.
In the wake of recent Tour de France drug violations and with the 2008 Olympics looming the need to stay ahead of the game has never been more evident. Thats why the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, charged with monitoring the conduct of athletes, is working with investigators around the globe to develop a test that would bust competitors for injecting themselves with genetic material capable of enhancing muscle mass or heightening endurance.
If an athlete injects himself in the muscle with DNA, would we be able to detect that" asked one of Frances leading gene therapy researchers, Philippe Moullier, M.D., Ph.D., an adjunct professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at UF and director of the Gene Therapy Laboratory at the Universite de Nantes in France.
Right now the answer is no, he said. But the UF scientists are among several groups collaborating with national and global anti-doping organizations to develop a test that could detect evidence of doped DNA.
WADA has had a research program in place for some years now, to try to develop tests for gene-based doping, said Theodore Friedmann, M.D., head of the agencys panel on genetic doping and director of the gene therapy program at the University of California, San Diego.
It sounds futuristic, but experts say its only a matter of time. Unscrupulous athletes began showing an interest in gene doping in 2004, when the first reports of muscle-boosting therapies in mice were published by University of Pennsylvania researchers.