How Close Are We to Gene Doping?

By Friedmann, Theodore | The Hastings Center Report, March-April 2010 | Go to article overview

How Close Are We to Gene Doping?

Friedmann, Theodore, The Hastings Center Report

We know from the third law of motion described in the midseventeenth century by Sir Isaac Newton in his Principia Mathematica that every action in the physical universe generates an equal and opposite reaction. That's what enables fish to swim, birds to fly, rockets to soar. It's what allows us to sit quietly in chairs without falling through the floor or floating off into space. It seems to me very likely that the Newtonian laws of motion also explain some aspects of the emergence and evolution of new concepts. A prime example might be a nettlesome new cottage industry that has arisen to evade the international effort to curb doping in sports.

This new movement is founded on the position that it is the very existence of antidoping regulation and oversight that produces a climate of cheating and distrust in sports, and that regulation and prohibition should be replaced by a more laissez-faire approach. (1) This argument would lead us to accept all methods for enhancing performance outside of those permitted by the rules of that sport--drugs, supplements, materials, surgery, and now gene-based enhancement--should be allowed, even encouraged and valued. Some have even suggested that our society has a moral duty to promote active and unregulated use of any and all methods to achieve athletic "excellence." Bizarrely, one prominent proponent of this approach labels such a process "natural." (2)

As troublesome as traditional, drug-based doping has long been, the emergence of gene doping is seen by some to represent an ominous new opportunity in cheating technology. (3) The concept of gene doping grew out of the important development in the early 1970s of a novel approach in medicine that promised to treat human disease by attacking underlying genetic defects. Thus was born the idea of gene therapy. (4) In early, phase I safety studies, gene therapy has produced effective treatments for a number of diseases, such as pediatric immune deficiency, a genetic form of blindness, and neurodegeneration, (5) with more sure to come in the very near future. While the efficacy of treatments has not yet been confirmed in more extensive phase III studies, the success so far teaches us is that it is clearly possible to introduce new genetic functions into human beings in forms efficient and stable enough to modify traits that produce serious disease and thus to ameliorate life-threatening illness and ease suffering.

The same methods can undoubtedly be used to enhance normal human traits, including traits that affect athletic ability. One might readily envision genetic modification of healthy young athletes to augment functions useful for athletic performance, such as muscle growth and contraction, endurance, blood production, pain perception, and oxygen delivery to exercising muscle. But how close we are to gene doping in sports is a matter of debate.

When the concept of gene doping first emerged a decade or so ago, some critics considered it improbable and far from imminent. One of my most respected colleagues, who had a prominent role in the gene therapy oversight process, called the potential for using genetic modification methods for gene doping "a lot of gale-force hand waving." In contrast, others saw it to be the obvious next and inevitable step in doping and cheating technology and believed it offered potential advantages over drug-based doping--that it might be more effective and more difficult to detect. Many feared that gene doping would enter the world of competitive sports very quickly; in fact, the sports media have predicted that every Olympic Games in the last decade would probably be the first genetically doped games.

Indeed, several instances have come to light that can only be interpreted as serious attempts at gene doping. An athletic coach in Germany was found to be making diligent efforts to obtain a gene vector called Repoxygen that contains and expresses the erythropoietin gene and was developed to increase blood production in patients with serious diseases such as cancer and chronic kidney disease. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

How Close Are We to Gene Doping?


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.