8th December 2018

Professor develops reliable gene doping test

Dr. Hidde Haisma of the University of Groningen has developed a gene doping test based on detecting the 0.01% difference between your genes and ‘alien’ genes introduced into the human physiology. “We have demonstrated that it works, but we still have to examine its sensitivity and how easy it is to perform in a Lab”, said Haisma in an interview published on the University of Groningen’s internet site. “By the end of this year, I expect to be able to report to the World Anti-Doping Agency” [WADA]. 

Gene doping involves gene transfer to introduce additional genes into the human physiology that may cause it to start producing more of an exogenous hormone or protein that is considered to provide an advantage in sport. It is understood that this can be done by directly injecting the gene carrier into the person, or by taking cells from the person, transfecting them with the additional genes, then administering them back into the person.

It is understood that Dr. Haisma’s test involves looking for genetic material that is ‘shorter’ than ordinary genes. This is because most genes contain ‘junk DNA’, which are not necessary to the task required. It is understood that in gene doping, 90% of the gene is discarded and only the part that is active to the task required is administered to the athlete. Administering the entire gene including the ‘junk DNA’ is understood to be impractical. 

Gene doping has never been detected in sport, largely because an effective test doesn’t exist, but it has been debated as a possibility by WADA since 2002. WADA has spent over US$8 million on researching a testing method. Section M3 of WADA’s 2019 Prohibited List, entitled ‘Gene and Cell Doping’, defines the following as prohibited: ‘The use of polymers of nucleic acids or nucleic acid analogues’; ‘The use of gene editing agents designed to alter genome sequences and/or the transcriptional, post-transcriptional or epigenetic regulation of gene expression’; and ‘The use of normal or genetically modified cells’.

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