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Tuesday 12, Apr 2011

  Linford Christie to address MPs

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Linford Christie to address MPsOlympic gold medalist, Linford Christie was invited to a committee of MPs, which focuses on performance enhancing drugs.

Two scholars, Roger Maughan, Loughborough University, and Julian Savulescu, Oxford, have also been invited to address the committee.

An inquiry for human enhancement technologies in sport, in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics, is being conducted by the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

Wednesday 09, Mar 2011

  Linford Christie to address MPs on performance enhancement in sport

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Linford Christie to address MPs on performance enhancement in sportThe Olympic gold medalist, Linford Christie, has been asked to address a committee of MPs which is looking into performance enhancing drugs.

Two academics, Roger Maughan, of the University of Loughborough, and Julian Savulescu, of Oxford, have also been asked to address the committee.

An inquiry into human enhancement technologies in sport in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympic games is being undertaken by the Commons science and technology committee.

Wednesday 24, Dec 2008

  Only athletes who use steroids and/or gene doping can break records after 2060 – French Institute of Sport

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olympic-steroids1 Sports associations like the International Olympic Committee will be having difficult time generating revenues from promoters and sports fans as the years go by. This is because a recent study by France’s Institute for Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiology (IRMES) says that after 2060 athletes will no longer be capable of breaking world records since by then they would have reached their physiological limits. Considering majority of promoters and fans shell out dough to witness record-breaking performances (that’s why track and field and swimming are the most popular spectator sports in the Olympics) one wonder how the sporting world can cope 50 or 60 years hence.

The study says that only way athletes can break records at that time is with the use of “industrial amounts of anabolic steroids or a product of genetic doping, or indeed both” says an article on Irish Times. Would sports organizations legalize performance-enhancing drugs by then?

But just how exactly IRMES arrived at these conclusions? More on this from the Irish Times.

Irmes analysed all 3,260 world records set since the first modern Olympics in 1896, and, in the end, reckoned athletes are coming very close to reaching their physiological limits. They noticed a common pattern for all events, and based on their mathematical model, estimated that athletes were operating at 75 per cent of their potential in 1896, while in 2008, they would be operating at 99 per cent.

By 2027 the athletes in about half of the events will have reached 100 per cent, and by 2060 they all will. After that the only way a world record is likely to be broken is if the athlete is on industrial amounts of steroids or a product of genetic doping, or indeed both.

That’s a study for another day, and in the meantime it’s up to athletic freaks such as Usain Bolt.

But what the Irmes study didn’t predict was where exactly the records will finish at. Some may well be finished already. The 10.49 that Florence Griffith-Joyner ran for the 100 metres back in 1988 hasn’t been touched in the years since, nor does it look likely to be. Without going into the gruesome details of the rise of Flo-Jo, as she was affectionately known, (widespread rumours of steroid abuse, dead at 38) only one other women has run under 10.7 seconds for the 100 metres, and that was Marion Jones.

In other words Flo-Jo’s record is unlikely to be broken before 2060.

There are several other dodgy records in the books and they are unlikely to be broken before 2060 either. Unless of course the IAAF finally gets some sense and remove all world records from the drug-infested 1980s

Tuesday 09, Dec 2008

  Gene doping may be the next big booster in sports

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steroids baseballIt may not be here, but it will be upon the world of sports in the near future. This is the general feeling among scientists, the media, and sports officials on gene doping.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has recognized the threat of this futuristic method, thus banning it in 2003. At the Beijing Olympics in August, there have been cases which garnered the scrutiny of WADA concerning the drug Repoxygen, a tradename for a type of gene therapy.

Now, a science journalist and a scientist in Switzerland acknowledge the imminent enticement of gene doping to 21st century athletes, displacing synthetic steroids and hormones sooner than later as means to boost athletic performance.

Professor Max Gassmann of Zurich University’s Institute of Veterinary Physiology has manipulated the erythropoietin (EPO) gene of mice to produce more oxygen carrying red blood cells – a process that could eventually be transferred to humans.

Gassmann does not think gene doping has infiltrated sport at the moment but believes some people may already be testing its potential, just as beneficial gene therapy is currently undergoing clinical trials.

“I can hardly imagine that we had a gene doping cheat winning at the Beijing Olympics,” he told swissinfo. “But there has been doping throughout history and if gene doping becomes viable then you cannot stop it, because people want to win.”

Author Beat Glogger has taken the theory a stage further by writing a thriller – “Run For My Life” – about genetically modified athletes. Glogger, also a science journalist, and Gassmann contributed to a Swiss sports ministry document warning about the risks of gene doping.

According to the same article, scientists have already identified more than 150 genes that can influence performance output, such as those that control muscle growth, muscle speed and the production of red blood cells.

Gene manipulation is still at its infancy, requiring more scientific research to ensure effective and safe administration. Athletes who submit themselves to gene doping now can suffer health risks and even death. In Gassmann’s study, genetically modified mice live only half as long as the untreated mice.

Thursday 14, Aug 2008

  Sports organizations intensify programs on steroid and PED testing

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BeijingOlympicsSteroidsThe reality is with us for a long time, but the acknowledgement comes just now.

Olympic officials finally admit the truth the Games may never be completely free from steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Months leading up to the Summer Games in Beijing has netted dozens of athletes who tested positive for banned substance and/or violated testing protocols. And the fact that quite a few of those violators were possible gold winners rattles key sports leaders.

To keep up with the advancement in doping practices – emergence of new methods and drugs that elude screening – anti-doping officials adopt new testing policy for the coming years. It’s a paradigm shift for many anti-doping organizations as they adopt new procedures to respond to the newfangled problems in sports today.

Among these procedures is the so-called deterrent effect. Official will conduct frequent testing as well as scientific studies in designer drug detection. In Beijing Olympics, for example, WADA is expected to conduct 4,500 drug tests, the highest ever in the history of Olympics. Four years ago in Athens, WADA oversaw 3,500 tests and came up with 26 positive cases.

“I’ve said that we could expect between 30 and 40 positive cases [during the Games],” said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. “That is the extrapolation of the figures from Athens…If we have less, we must be extremely glad because that will mean that there has been a deterrent effect.

“Am I disappointed that there is still doping? Of course, I am. I hate doping. But we have to be realistic. It would be wrong to be Utopians. Doping is to sport what criminality is to society and there will always be criminality in society.”

Because of the stepped-up policy, the top five finishers in each event and two randomly chosen competitors will undergo a combination of blood tests and checks for the presence of synthetic EPO, an endurance-boosting hormone. Olympic organizers will also test for human growth hormone (HGH), the first they will do so. Further, scientists will also test for other key hormone levels and other signs that may indicate an athlete’s attempt to artificially enhance his or her performance.

Also as part of the new program, samples will be stored for eight years which will allow officials to conduct retests when scientists develop more efficient methods of detection.

John Fahey, head of WADA, is glad with other countries’ efforts to dissuade athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs. “…they (countries) have embarked upon a systematic testing regime in the months leading up to departure of their teams for Beijing. . . . I hope that in two weeks’ time, when we walk away from here, we’ve seen results that have made a significant step in the way back to confidence and integrity in sport.”

USADA testing program – will athletes come out clean?

Prior to the Beijing Olympics, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has recently adopted a pilot testing program with the goal of ideally getting rid of use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in sports. The program has involved twelve American athletes who are preeminent in their respective sport discipline. The volunteer athletes include champion US sprinter Tyson Gay, record-setting swimming superstars Michael Phelps and Dara Torres; and Allyson Felix, two-time 200 meter world champion.

The USADA program has required a two-week period of blood and urine testing to determine a body chemistry baseline. After the baseline has been set, the volunteers have undergone unannounced blood and urine tests. Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of USADA, considered the program as the most advanced and comprehensive in the world.

Gay volunteered to the program to help clean the image of his sport. There had been doping scandals that now and then pop in mainstream media that involve high-profile track stars. Marion Jones, who is currently serving a six-month prison term, comes quickly to mind when talking about doping in athletics.

“I definitely understand people questioning people running fast because we’ve had several track athletes busted for steroids in the past,” Gay said. “I get tested whenever they want to test me. If it’s six vials of blood one week, then again the next week, that’s just the price I have to go through to make sure everything is OK.”

Tygart is also optimistic about the program’s end result.

“The general climate in sports today creates an unfair environment where athletes, whether setting world records or competing at an older age, are all of a sudden accused of doing it by performance-enhancing drugs,” Tygart said. “We want to do everything possible to take away that stigma for the clean athletes. We want to give athletes a testing platform that we all can have comfort in knowing they’re actually clean. That’s a dream of ours.”

Archaic and high-tech doping

According to a Boston Globe article, sports officials now have to contend with both low-tech methods (urine swapping) and revolutionary means (gene doping) to outsmart testing protocol.

The seven Russian track-and-field athletes caught days before the Games are accused of tampering with urine samples. DNA taken from the urine did not match DNA taken from the athletes, prompting one Olympics official to call it a case of “systematic doping.” Whether that proves true or not, urine tampering is a prime example of back-to-the-future cheating by athletes. Using someone else’s urine to pass drug tests was first done roughly 40 years ago.

As athletes try to evade new drug tests, future doping scandals appear likely to involve either low-tech methods from the past or frighteningly advanced science.

Gene doping is on the horizon for the 2012 London Olympics, though its short- and long-term effects are still largely unknown. To alter themselves on a cellular level, athletes inject synthetic genes designed to either promote muscle growth or increase endurance. Since the synthetic genes blend easily with the athlete’s DNA, it is impossible to detect gene doping without multiple muscle biopsies, which is not exactly practical when officials are already performing 4,500 tests during the Olympics.

“There is an expertise that makes us more effective than we ever were before,” said Fahey, the WADA chief. “That doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t cheats out there still, or that there might always be cheats out there.”

Gene doping, Fahey said, “May become something that enters the lexicon of doping in the days ahead, and we want to be there to pick it up and deal with it at an earlier stage. Much of what we do is about public health. At this point, we’re thinking about the world’s elite athletes. But to the point that this or any of those other drugs are taken, there is a risk to the health, sometimes the lives, of those who are doping.”

Unfortunately, that is not a strong enough deterrent for some athletes seeking gold. If athletes are willing to risk their lives by using steroids or gene doping, it is easy to see why measures taken by sports leaders can only lessen, not eliminate, cheating.

Thursday 14, Aug 2008

  Sport leaders need not worry about steroids now – gene doping could be the new performance enhancer

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BeijingOlympicsSteroidsA Newsweek article poses the question: “Is gene doping the next Olympic threat?”

Days before the Olympics Games opened in Beijing a German television aired a documentary showing that despite the crackdown of Chinese authorities on steroid trade (manufacturers, dealers, and users were targeted) there is still conduits of steroids operating in the host country. And what is more troubling, at least from the point of view of anti-doping officials, is the emergence of new form of performance-enhancing method – gene doping.

Nowadays, just the mere mention of the phrase ‘genetic modification’ makes a heated debate. Remember Dolly the sheep in 1996? Since then, arguments about the ethics and morality of modifying or altering one’s genetic makeup sprout from different sectors of the society, each endorsing their popular (or unpopular) take on the issue.

What is exactly is gene doping?

The World Anti-Doping Agency defined gene doping as the “non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or of the modulation of gene expression, having the capacity to improve athletic performance”. It was in 2001 that the International Olympic Committee first tackled the possible impact of gene therapy for athletic performance. Then in 2002 two significant events were carried out to address the issue. First it was the meeting of WADA at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, discussing genetic enhancement. Then the United State’s President’s Council met twice to deliberate the ethics of this genetic technology vis-à-vis its use in sport. A year later, WADA included the prohibition of gene doping within their World Anti-Doping Code, which was later formalized in 2004. In 2005, WADA drafted a sort of declaration of war against gene doping in sport. In 2006, in the period leading up to Olympic Winter Games in Turin, the first product to be linked with gene doping surfaced. It was Repoxygen, a tradename for a type of gene therapy being developed to treat anemia.

In the German documentary, a reporter posed as a coach who wanted to avail of stem-cell treatment for his swimmers. The Chinese doctor, whose face was blurred to hide his identity and whose confident answer was translated to English said, “Yes. We have no experience with athletes here, but the treatment is safe and we can help you. It strengthens lung function and stem cells go into the bloodstream and reach the organs. It takes two weeks. I recommend four intravenous injections … 40 million stem cells or double that, the more the better. We also use human growth hormones, but you have to be careful because they are on the doping list.”

The athlete’s DNA could be modified in a number of ways which includes inhalation and injection of genes into muscles or bones thereby creating proteins which could enter the tissue or blood. And athletes who want to have advantage over their opponents find this method ideal since gene doping is harder to detect than, say, banned compounds like anabolic steroids. This presents a Catch-22 for anti-doping officials. Many of the modifications might be hard to detect since the body is capable of producing them naturally; in other words, there would be many instances when testers could not tell if the substances were occurring endogenously or had been introduced artificially into the system.

However, Dr. Ted Friedman believes they are now on the verge of finding effective ways that could determine if an athlete had undergone genetic alteration. These ways could be via tissue, blood, and urine tests.  “There are interesting preliminary results, but I can’t expand on that,” Friedmann says. “This idea still needs to prove itself,” Friedmann explains. “But we’re all encouraged by the results, and WADA very much wants to be ahead of the curve on this and has funded a dozen or more labs on gene doping.” Friedmann is a leading authority on gene therapy and director of the Center for Molecular Genetics at the University of California, San Diego’s School of Medicine. Friedmann works closely with WADA since he is named president of the American Society of Gene Therapy in 2006.

When asked if this could this be the first Olympics in which athletes are discovered altering their own DNA, Friedmann tells Newsweek: “It would not surprise me at all if this were to occur.”

Freidmann also talks about the Repoxygen case that happened in 2006. It involved a German trainer Thomas Springsteen who was reportedly searching on the Web for “a source of material for a sophisticated genetic procedure.” Allegedly, Springsteen was on the lookout for Repoxygen, which is actually a virus that contains a gene that could increase the level of erythropoietin (EPO). EPO is a hormone that activates bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. EPO is now one of the most commonly used performance boosters by athletes engaged in sport disciplines requiring power and endurance, such as cycling and weightlifting.

The Newsweek article ends with the statements that gene doping is now a reality to be confronted by sport leaders.

As these Olympics continue, the more “traditional” ways of cheating through doping are still what concern Olympics officials most. But gene doping is looming on the horizon. Because it is so new and complicated, it still poses great risks: a handful of patients who have undergone gene therapy for diseases like leukemia have died. So Friedmann insists that sporting authorities must err on the side of caution. “If gene doping is happening already, as we suspect, it’s being done unethically and with immature technology, and that makes it inherently very dangerous,” Friedmann says. “Most of the information is already published and in the medical literature, the opportunity is there, there is the pressure on these athletes to perform, and of course so much money is potentially involved. Few of us would be shocked if something were going on at these Olympics. But whether anything is discovered during these next few weeks remains to be seen.” Friedmann hopes the research he’s doing now will lead to such discoveries at future Games.

Tuesday 29, Jul 2008

  â€˜Stunning’ gene doping, low-cost steroids in China

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Beijing-2008-Summer-Olympics-SteroidsThe recent showing of the documentary film Flying High in Middle Kingdom once again focuses the public’s attention on the issue of the use of performance-enhancing drugs (i.e. steroids) and methods (i.e. gene doping) in competitive sports.

The documentary’s timing and locale is intentionally inopportune – it is in China where the Summer Olympics is to commence on August 8. The documentary, which aired on ARD television in Germany, shows that despite the clean-up act of Chinese authorities conducted for many months now, it is still business as usual for the manufacturers and traders of anabolic steroids. And this is causing alarm amongst anti-doping agencies.  Even more alarming for these watchdogs is the fact that there is a clear stepping up of doping in competitive sports – the use of biotechnology to enhance the performance of athletes.

Anti-doping officials were ‘stunned’ as an AP report put it. The same report provided additional details on this news:

The report, filmed with a concealed camera, shows the doctor with his face blurred speaking in Chinese and offering the treatment in return for $24,000, according to a translation provided by the ARD television.

The documentary broadcast Monday did not offer evidence that the hospital had provided gene doping to other athletes, but anti-doping officials were appalled that the treatment was so readily available.

“I could not have imagined it in such a provable form,” Mario Thevis, chief of the German center of preventive doping research in Cologne.

Another Cologne expert on gene doping, Patrick Diel, said he was “stunned to see it.”
“It goes beyond my worst expectations,” Diel said.

In the documentary, the reporter posing as an American swimming coach meets with the head of the gene therapy department of a Chinese hospital. It did not name the doctor, or the hospital.

The New York Times also ran a report on this documentary.

The documentary, broadcast by ARD on Germany’s main channel last night, went on to show evidence that drugs firms in China are prepared to sell steroids that have not passed full clinical trials, as well as erythropoietin (EPO), the blood-boosting drug, at a price far cheaper than in the West. In the case of one steroid, 100g was sold for €150 (about £120) when the price in Europe would have been more than €6,000.

When investigators approached three companies for the supply of steroids and EPO, they were asked to pick up the substances personally, to get round the preGames crackdown on selling illegal substances on the black market. EPO and a steroid called estra-diendione were offered. One hundred grams of the steroid cost 1,500 yuan (about £100). It came with quality control certification and proved to be a bargain. The cost in Europe is upwards of £4,500 per 100g, according to Mario Thevis, an expert at a laboratory in Cologne.

Leave it to the Chinese to offer the most competitive price on everything!

Friday 25, Jul 2008

  Documentary shows evidence of gene doping, steroid use in China

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china-steroidsThis is not going to be a good backdrop for the fast-approaching Beijing Summer Olympics.  With less than three weeks before opening of the world’s biggest sporting event, the showing of a German documentary can really do harm to Beijing’s stature as host city. The Times Online provides the incriminating details of the documentary film titled Flying High in Middle Kingdom.

Startling new evidence of a burgeoning underground doping culture in China emerged last night as a hospital doctor said that he was prepared to give illegal performance-enhancing gene therapy treatment to an Olympic swimmer. The doctor was caught on camera by a German television investigator saying that he wanted £12,000 for a two-week treatment that would help to strengthen the lungs of a fictitious American swimmer.

The documentary, broadcast by ARD on Germany’s main channel last night, went on to show evidence that drugs firms in China are prepared to sell steroids that have not passed full clinical trials, as well as erythropoietin (EPO), the blood-boosting drug, at a price far cheaper than in the West. In the case of one steroid, 100g was sold for €150 (about £120) when the price in Europe would have been more than €6,000.

Since Beijing won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics seven years ago, it started to primp up its image, particularly in regards to its steroid trade and use. In the last couple of months, with pressure from international anti-doping groups, the drive against these banned substances had netted several steroid labs and manufacturing firms across the country, including GenSci. GenSci is the Chinese company behind Jintropin, a human growth hormone popular among athletes. The company’s license had been temporarily revoked by Chinese authorities recently. The documentary, however, proves that GenSci is still conducting business, albeit not in the usual manner.

When asked if the company (GenSci) could supply steroids and EPO, investigators were asked to pick up the substances personally, to get round the preGames crackdown on selling illegal substances on the black market. EPO and a steroid called estra-diendione were offered. One hundred grams of the steroid cost 1,500 yuan (about £100). It came with quality control certification and proved to be a bargain. The cost in Europe is upwards of £4,500 per 100g, according to Mario Thevis, an expert at a laboratory in Cologne.

To show the world that it is serious in ridding competitive sports of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, Chinese officials have suspended a couple of their athletes and coaches because of use of steroids and other banned compounds. The TV airing of this documentary, however, is causing some jitters amongst anti-doping organizations.

With the Olympics beginning in Beijing in a little more than two weeks, the documentary evidence of cheap, on-demand gene therapy alarmed David Howman, the director general of the World AntiDoping Agency (Wada). “This is worse than my worst fears,” he said.