Performance enhancing drugs
The report in the popular media that some track and field athletes have been using a so called designer steroids’ created to thwart drugs testing regimens is the latest installment in the ongoing battle against doping, or the use of performance enhancing technologies in sports. Are sports organizations resounding appropriately to these challenges and what is the proper role of physicians in this controversy?
According to the world anti-doping agency, the term doping probably comes from the Afrikaans word’ dop,’a concoction made from grapes leaves that Zulu warriors drank before going into battle in sports, the term was first used to describe the illegal drugging of race horses at the beginning of the 20th century.
Doping in sports now includes a range of practices, including blood doping’[the practice of autologous or homologous hemoglobin transfusion] and the use of synthetic erythropoietin [EPO] to increase the number of red blood cells; anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to grow skeletal muscle; stimulants to improve cognitive function and reduce fatigue; and nitrogen tents and houses’ to simulate the effects of sleeping at high altitude. The future holds the promise of more powerful and exotic interventions.
At a recent meeting of the American society for gene therapy, for example, Barry Byrne, professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the university of Florida, described a considerable amount of research currently underway to identify biological determinants of athletics performance, including vascular endothelial growth factor[VEGF] to increase vascularization; leptin as a fat metabolizer; myostatin to increase the number of muscle cells; and therapeutic antibodies and cytokines to reduce susceptibility to athletic injuries.
Additional enhancement interventions are expected from the knowledge gained by the human genome project. In July 2003, foe example, researchers...