The use of genes for performance enhancement: doping or therapy?
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Recent biotechnological advances have permitted the manipulation of genetic sequences to treat several diseases in a process called gene therapy. However, the advance of gene therapy has opened the door to the possibility of using genetic manipulation (GM) to enhance athletic performance. In such ‘gene doping’, exogenous genetic sequences are inserted into a specific tissue, altering cellular gene activity or leading to the expression of a protein product. The exogenous genes most likely to be utilized for gene doping include erythropoietin (EPO), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), insulin-like growth factor type 1 (IGF-1), myostatin antagonists, and endorphin. However, many other genes could also be used, such as those involved in glucose metabolic pathways. Because gene doping would be very difficult to detect, it is inherently very attractive for those involved in sports who are prepared to cheat. Moreover, the field of gene therapy is constantly and rapidly progressing, and this is likely to generate many new possibilities for gene doping. Thus, as part of the general fight against all forms of doping, it will be necessary to develop and continually improve means of detecting exogenous gene sequences (or their products) in athletes. Nevertheless, some bioethicists have argued for a liberal approach to gene doping.