Cyclingnews.com reports that a German laboratory has developed a test for genetic doping.  This is quite interesting, as there have been reports that genetic doping, if not in widespread use at the moment, may well be the next battlefront in the war against doping.

I have always understood that genetic doping would probably involve either insertion of genes for biochemical factors that might alter or enhance physiological response to exercise (either impacting endurance or the capacity to respond to training stress), or transient expression of such genes.  Likely target tissues would be muscle groups.  These sorts of techniques carry considerable risks – insertion of exogenous DNA into the human genome can have dangerous consequences – in particular one might worry about the potential to induce cancerous tumours.

One problem is the detection of such doping techniques, and whether it would be possible to detect such changes via blood or urine tests (presumably for whatever the novel gene’s product influences).  So I was interested to know what the cyclingnews.com report had to say:

Scientists in Cologne, Germany, have developed a test to detect genetic doping. The test will detect GW1516, which has been added to the list of doping substances list year. GW1516 has been developed to fight obesity by stimulating fat oxidation.

Actually, this sounds like a new doping compund, rather than genetic doping.  And in fact, the Wikipedia entry for GW1516 indicates that it is a relatively small molecule  as shown below GW1516

So, this sounds like a new test to identify a new doping compund on the block, rather than a test for genetic doping.

The scientists have been working on the test for about a year. "The test is ready and we will be able to do genetic doping controls at the Olympics in 2012 and likely a lot earlier than that," Mario Thevis told Spiegel Online. Thevis is professor at the Deutsche Sporthochschule in Cologne.

This sounds more like a story about genetic doping – perhaps the report is combining two stories into one?

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) distinguishes two types of genetic doping, either the addition of foreign DNA or the concrete change of one’s own DNA. GW1516 belongs to the latter category.

Thevis added that tests with animals showed that the substance increases one’s endurance.

Presumably GW1516 has some effect on exercise physiology, but I don’t think it can fall into the second WADA category – a concrete change of one’s own DNA.  Unless I am missing something.

In any case, if this report indicates that testing laboratories are moving to develop tests for genetic doping, that’s all to the good.  Many modern doping products are particularly dangerous, as they are often hormones and other bioactive molecules that can alter the physical and physiological development of athletes’ bodies, possibly irreversibly in some cases and in any case dangerously.  Genetic doping will quite possibly be associated with other more sinister and even lethal side effects.