The ultimate athlete – Doped Epo gene

Gene therapy is an amazing tool which could pave way to efficient treatment for many diseases that were previously not treatable due to lack of efficient treatment procedures. However the human mind is so infinite that even the greatest findings could cause serious damage. Gene therapy is also one such finding that may be used as a performance enhancer in athletes.

Gene therapy simply may be considered as the transfer of genetic material into human cells for treatment or prevention of a disease. Say an important gene has been mutated and has lost its function, gene therapy could be used to replace this gene with a native copy of it, thus resuming function. The delivery of this genetic material is aided by a viral vector or a liposome. Viral vectors (viral DNA) are engineered in such a way that they cannot cause harmful effects to the host. The risk of this awesome tool is that it could be exploited for enhancing performance in athletics and other sports.

Erythropoietin (Epo) gene is one of the important genes that has potential to improve athletic performance in athletes. Erythropoietin is a protein (a glycoprotein to be true) hormone that is produced by the kidneys which promotes  erythropoiesis i.e. production of red blood cells by the bone marrow. Increase of red blood cells means increased capacity for oxygen supply to muscle tissue. This increases endurance in athletes. People who have inadequate amounts of red blood cells could benefit enormously from the therapy. However, superhuman strength comes with a price and a severe one. Adeno associated vectors can be used for delivery of the Epo gene and studies in monkeys have shown polycythemia, in which the proportion of blood volume occupied by the red blood cells increases above normal and occurrence of auto immune attacks could be fatal due to the transgene delivery. It may take years before therapeutic application to be available and it has been reported recently that non-viral Epo gene therapy has shown promise in treatment of β-thalassemic anemia and was demonstrated in mice.

Souce : Gene doping (Netherlands centre for doping affairs)

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