01:11pm Monday 21 October 2019

UC research one step ahead of sport drug cheats

Gene doping involves the injection of genes, or parts of genes in the human body to trigger cell activity with the capacity to enhance athletic performance, such as the creation of more red blood cells or growth hormones.

Dr Michelle Gahan, one of the leaders of the project to develop new test to detect gene doping. Photo: Michelle McAulay

Michelle GahanAssistant professor in forensic studies and one of the team leaders, Dr Michelle Gahan, explained that in gene doping “the cells in the human body take up the injected gene and use that information to produce the doping agent – just as if you were giving the body a DNA vaccine.”

Now, the University’s research team is working on developing a more sensitive test that can detect doping long after it has taken place.

Thanks to a $250,000 grant from the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts & Sport, the team will use state-of-the-art technology to look not at the doping agents themselves but rather at the effects that they leave behind.

Dr Gahan explained that currently, tests to detect doping in athletes have to be administered soon after the doping event itself to be able to identify the doping agents involved.

“We want to be able to pick up doping agents long after the doping has been administered,” she said. “To do this we’ll be looking at the signatures of expression of the genes – the footprints if you like of these doping agents.”

Dr Gahan said that they hope their test will be more sensitive – and potentially capable of detecting gene doping for a more extended period of time – than the molecular techniques currently available.

She warned: “gene doping not only threatens fair competition in sport but involves major health risks to those who engage in this practice.

“Athletes might not be practising gene doping yet, but it’s a very possible path and we have to be prepared,” Dr Gahan said.

Other members of the research team include: adjunct professor in immunology Ian Ramshaw, associate professor in molecular and cellular biology Sudha Rao, Australian National University professor Simon Easteal and Dr Daniel Eichner from the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah.

University of Canberra, ACT 2601 Australia

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