Ethics to guide gene quest for sport stars (2007, May 19)


Ethics to guide gene quest for sport starsJacquelin Magnay May 19, 2007 GENETICS has long been touted as the next big thing in sport - the "big" being the potential abuse of gene manipulation to enhance sporting performance.

But Australian authorities are keen to use genetics in an ethical way to identify the next big thing: the next great sporting hero.

In the past two days the bio-ethicists at the Hastings Centre in New York have grappled with their final position statement, using input from the Australian Institute of Sport's director, Peter Fricker, to clarify research issues affecting genes and sport.

Fricker is planning to submit the Hastings Centre framework to the World Anti-Doping Agency and seek permission from the Federal Government to restart athlete genetic research which was put on hold in 2004.

"We had to make sure we got the guidelines in place because it is such an important issue," he said. "But the research will be to see if genetic screening is worth doing in the first place. Is it worth making it part of the battery of current testing like heart rate∑ or do we find 99 per cent of an athlete's ability is because of coaching, physiological aspects or training and the DNA is only a small part?"

Scientists could, for example, take a sample of tissue, analyse the DNA and work out which sport an athlete is best suited to. And if the athlete had the "boxer" gene, indicating a predisposition to injury, or more serious diseases like Alzheimer's and heart disease, they could be spared long stints on the sideline with prevention programs.

The think tank's initial ideas for ethical guidelines include a requirement that athletes be at least 12 years old before being involved in research, and that the need of sports organisations who cared for athletes to know genetic information should prevail over an athlete's not wanting to know.