Sweden: WADA chairman Dick Pound opens gene doping conference

Anti-doping officials and scientists are meeting again to prepare for what is likely to be the next generation of cheats in sports gene dopers.

While nobody knows if gene doping exists, World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound said he could not rule out the possibility.

"Anything is possible, we don't believe it does but you can't exclude it," Pound said Saturday night on the eve of the two-day 2nd WADA Symposium on Gene Doping.

"We don't have any test that everybody in the scientific community approved, to say 'yes, if we find x, y and z, that means genetic doping has occurred.' That's one of the purposes of the update at this symposium. Where are we in the development of the kind of test that will identify this?"

Gene doping involves transferring genes directly into human cells to blend into an athlete's own DNA to enhance muscle growth and increase strength or endurance. Unlike steroids or drugs, the added genes are not detectable yet.

"There are some experiments that one of the scientists who is here in Stockholm has done," Pound said. "Playing with the genes, he has increased muscle bulk in laboratory animals by 15 percent with no exercise, nothing." If you are trying to throw a shot put 20 meters or 40 meters, that would be a great interest to you.

"That's the kind of thing we have to anticipate," Pound said. "Anything that might assist the body to use the oxygen better, might increase endurance. "So we have to be alert to that, meet with these scientists, find out what they're doing, figure out whether some of those applications might be interesting for people who want to cheat in sport and then work on devising tests."

Some 50 leading scientists in the field of gene technology and gene therapy from around the world will attend the conference at Karolinska Institutet, one of Europe's largest medical universities.

Professor Arne Ljungqvist, a former second-in-command at Karolinska Institutet and an International Olympic Committee member, says there has been much speculation about gene doping. "Is there already gene doping going on? What will happen with the next Olympic Games? Is it possible that we'll see the first games in Turin?" Ljungqvist said.

"I believe not. What about Beijing, and what about the future? So there is a need for some clear statement from a real group of experts. Where are we? What are the possibilities? What are the risks? And what can we do?" Ljungqvist believes gene doping can be detected in the future and he expects that the conference will deliver a message to possible cheaters on Monday, when IOC chairman Jacques Rogge will attend.

"The misunderstanding that seems to be out there is that gene doping will not be detected," Ljungqvist said. "That is not the case. The case is rather how and by what means will it be detected", reported AP.

The symposium is organized by WADA, the Swedish Sports Confederation and Karolinska Institutet. P.T.

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