Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Press Release 10/2008

A New Quality of Doping in Sports

The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament Presents Results of the Project “Gene Doping”

Scientists see the risk that a number of new medical and pharmaceutical methods and processes might be abused for illegally increasing the performance in sports. The high relevance of gene doping lies in its supposedly high abuse potential and a so far insufficient knowledge about it. The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament has studied the medico-biological, legal, and social aspects of gene doping. These studies revealed a need for information and action with respect to gene doping. The most important results will be presented and discussed at a public meeting of the Sports Committee and the Committee for Education, Research, and Technology Assessment on March 12, 2008 in Berlin.

Dr. Elisabeth Zuber-Knost
Press Officer

Kaiserstraße 12
76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 721/608-2089
Fax: +49 (0) 721/608-3658

For details, please contact:

Dr. Katrin Gerlinger
Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB)
Neue Schönhauser Str. 10
10178 Berlin

Phone: +49 (0) 30 28491-108
Fax: +49 (0) 30 28491-119

Gene doping is the abuse of gene and cell therapy techniques, on the one hand, and the abuse of methods for the specific manipulation of gene activity by highly specific drugs, on the other. Future abuse is supposed to be aimed at building up muscles, improving the supply of the body with oxygen, and enhancing energy supply. The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB) has no evidence of scenarios of selecting or breeding man for increasing the performance in sports being technically feasible in the foreseeable future.

Medical research approaches are aimed at treating ill people. Side effects and potential risks due to abuse by healthy athletes that sometimes are subject to extreme physical stress, however, are not in the focus of medical research. But the current doping situation leads to the assumption that individual athletes are not even scared off by unknown health risks or potential side effects, including death. Moreover, individual people will not wait until certain drugs or therapies will have been licensed.

“A decisive factor that can limit the use of gene doping is its detectability”, says Dr. Katrin Gerlinger, head of the Gene Doping Project of the TAB. “Due to the increasing variety of doping options, however, detection will at least require the expenditure needed so far, probably even more.”

Detection methods are the prerequisites of legal sanctions. Although the World Anti-Doping Agency funds several projects for the detection of gene doping, the way towards an applicable test that will be accepted as a proof by court will probably be still long. Without a proof accepted by court, however, the existing doping control and sanction systems of organized sports will be of no use (as in case of doping with growth hormones and types of blood doping today). Gene doping will aggravate this situation.

“There are many potential uses of gene doping”, worries Professor Dr. Armin Grunwald, Head of the TAB and the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. "In analogy to conventional doping, we see them mainly in elite sports, but also in ambitious bodybuilding for building up muscles and - with a certain offset in time - for maintaining muscles in the grey area between therapy, life style, and abuse”.

The existing system of doping control and sanctions in elite sports may prevent doping with certain limitations only. For this reason, further measures should be taken to prevent gene doping from giving the doping spiral another turn and devaluating successes in the fight against doping. The TAB sees four elements of a specific strategy against gene doping:

  • Continuous observation of scientific trends and pharmaceutical development projects relevant to gene doping in the sense of an early warning system

  • Research and development in the field of detection, testing, and control methods

  • More specific listing of prohibited types of doping to ensure the definiteness of criminal offences

  • Information (prevention of gene doping should be established as an independent activity in addition to the doping control and sanctions system and all risk groups should be considered)

A documentation of major results of the project is available on the internet under www.tab.fzk.de/de/aktuell.htm.

The Office of Technology Assessment is an independent scientific institution that advises the German Federal Parliament and its committees in matters of scientific-technical change. It is run by the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. In the execution of its work program, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology cooperates with the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research in Karlsruhe.

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) represents the merger of the Universität Karlsruhe with the Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe. Altogether, it has 7500 employees and an annual budget of 600 million Euros.

The KIT will be an institution of internationally excellent research and teaching in natural and engineering sciences. KIT shall attract the best experts from all over the world, set new standards in teaching and promotion of young scientists, and establish the leading European center in the field of energy research. KIT will assume a leading role in nanosciences worldwide. It is the objective of KIT to be one of the most important cooperation partners of industry.

jh, March 12, 2008
Monika Landgraf

Monika Landgraf
Head of Corporate Communications, Chief Press Officer

Phone: +49 721 608-41150
Fax: +49 721 608-43658
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Margarete Lehné

Margarete Lehné
Deputy Head of Press Office

Phone: +49 721 608-41157

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