IOC hopes to crack down on 'gene doping' in 2010Updated Sun. Jan. 6 2008 9:01 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
The International Olympic Committee is hoping a test will be available to expose the next generation of athletes who engage in gene doping.
"Gene therapy--molecular based medicine--is advancing very, very quickly and it is quite possible that there could be breakthroughs in the next couple of years that could be applied to sports by 2010," Jim Rupert, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Human Kinetics told CTV News.
However, the IOC hopes new testing methods will catch those who misuse gene-based medical treatments.
"As we go forward, they are more and more confident that they will have a non-invasive test that will allow us to determine whether or not there has been artificial manipulation," said Dick Pound, IOC member and former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Gene therapy has been around for years, but remains largely untested. It involves inserting new DNA into the body's cells to correct genetic flaws that cause disease.
To increase performance, it is believed that dopers are trying to develop a method for increasing levels of a naturally occurring hormone through genetic manipulation.
"People will be pushing the envelope and looking for an edge, and if you can get a 15 or 30 per cent muscle increase in sports that require explosive strength... it's clearly something that people will think about," said Pound.
To ensure athletes end up on the podium fair and square, WADA awarded Jim Rupert a $325,000 grant to come up with a prototype test that will tell the difference between real hormones and those created by gene therapy. Rupert admits this will be difficult.
"Detecting something that's not supposed to be there is relatively easy. Detecting higher or lower levels of something that's naturally there is somewhat more challenging," he said.