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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 01:43 GMT
Scientists warn of 'super athletes'
Drug testing urine samples at Kings College, London
Drug testing has to keep up with the cheats
Drug cheats are on the verge of using genetic engineering to increase stamina and speed, sport scientists warn.

And they estimate that 2012 could be the first Olympics to have artificially produced super-athletes in action.

A conference on Friday on genes in sport warns that gene therapy - originally devised to help treat diseases like cystic fibrosis - could be abused to enhance performance.

And some sports scientists believe that work must start now on developing a test to catch them out.

Drugs dangers

The International Olympic Committee is concerned and has already set up an advisory group on gene doping.

Three years ago an entire team was thrown out of the Tour de France after cyclists were found to be taking erythropoetin (EPO).
Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson
Drug cheat Ben Johnson

This hormone increases the number of red blood cells which increases oxygen supply and improves an athlete's endurance.

But it also thickens the blood - and at least 20 cyclists are thought to have died from EPO use as a result.

But in today's competitive world of sport many athletes are prepared to risk their health - and reputation - in order to win.

Dr Hugh Montgomery of University College London is a geneticist who studies genes known to affect stamina and speed.


And he is cautious about how scientists would introduce genetic material into someone's cells to enhance performance.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson created the biggest Olympic drugs scandal in 1988.

He was stripped of his 100m title and world record after being tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.

But sportsmen have been known to have genetic advantages quite naturally.

One Olympic cross country skier had a medal winning mutation - his blood was naturally loaded with up to 50% more red blood cells which boosted his stamina.

See also:

27 Oct 01 | Sports Talk
Can IOC win fight against drugs?
30 Nov 01 | Other Sports
Net closes on drug cheats
16 Nov 01 | Rugby Union
Welsh rugby star in drugs confession
15 Nov 01 | Other Sports
Gymnasts protest drug innocence
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