Gene therapy for muscle enhancement has been planned for years. It is now close to being a viable medical treatment. (Feb. 22, 2005)

The ability to generate new muscle, build strength and maintain that muscle strength will be a wonderful help to those with muscle-wasting diseases. Gene therapy may also change the lives of the elderly and extend the usefulness of their later years.

Unfortunately this wonderful new promise of gene therapy is being eyed by athletes to enhance sport performance in the form of gene doping. Because the changes are generated within the muscle tissue itself, the chemicals in gene doping are hard to distinguish with the testing that is done on athletes before competition. Blood and urine testing will not reveal the presence of gene doping.

To fully understand the process, you need to know cell structure. Basically when targeting the skeletal muscle with gene doping there is the possibility to change slow-twitch muscle fiber to fast by activating the myosin gene. The opposite is accomplished with a gene form of protein calcineurin. Also, an increase in red blood cells that carry oxygen can be done with a gene for erythropoietin in order to gain endurance.

Gene therapy injections into muscle fiber stimulate and aid the normal repair of a muscle by manipulating the body’s chemical signals. It’s a complicated process, but something you’ll have to deal with if your future holds sports competition. You are using a synthetic gene to simulate injury and talk your body into repairing itself and creating muscle fiber that is stronger and larger. Genes that are normally enhanced through family genetic mutation have been seen in the Olympics for years. So think about it —is it unfair that a weightlifter has the advantage over other competitors because of natural mutation in muscle building or how about the athlete who has a natural ability to process oxygen and gain endurance because of more red blood cells? You can see the problems appearing already How do you detect gene doping, and if it can be detected, will it be a reason to prevent athletes from competition?

Obviously the good outweighs the bad. Helping those with debilitating diseases and helping our growing elderly population enjoy a better life through gene therapy is no small medical accomplishment. How we deal with gene doping in the athletic field will be a factor we may have to consider.

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