Although anti-doping players have been preparing for nearly twenty years for the hypothesis of genetic doping, no case has been detected so far, and the technicality required leaves some genetic specialists skeptical about the possibility of such a scenario.
The existence of the enemy is theoretical: the parade is in any case already ready.
French parliamentarians, for example, recently had to consider the subject of genetic doping during the examination of the Olympic law adopted on April 12. Article 4 of the law now provides for the possibility for the laboratory of the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) based in Châtenay-Malabry to carry out genetic tests, in particular during the next Paris Olympic Games in 2024, in order to be able to detect a possible genetic manipulation.
This threat, taken into account since 2002 by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), hovers more and more over world sport, in particular because of scientific advances in genetics favored by the arrival of messenger RNA vaccines to fight against Covid.
Gene doping is defined by a diversion of gene therapy which consists of introducing genetic material into cells “to treat a disease”, explains in particular the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm).
In terms of the desired effects, it does not differ from so-called classic doping which, most of the time, by diverting the use of already existing drugs, seeks to increase muscle mass or strengthen respiratory endurance.
– “A proven threat” –
Athletes capable, for example, of simulating the endogenous production of EPO (erythropoetin), or of naturally producing growth hormones, would distort the game considerably.
“It is a proven threat, a real subject to watch. There has been an acceleration effect in recent years with practical implementations in gene therapy which have made these techniques more accessible”, assures Jérémy Roubin, Secretary General of the AFLD.
“We can quite imagine that sports delegations wish to implement gene doping with the more or less explicit agreement of their athletes. Unfortunately, there is a history in doping which invites us to be cautious”, assures- he.
However, this hypothesis raises some doubts.
“15 years ago, we succeeded in coding EPO in a mouse, we sent the gene for EPO into the muscle tissue which began to produce it,” the professor told AFP. Bruno Pitard, research director at the CNRS. A discovery that had also intrigued and interested “a lot of people, interested in cycling and who had written to me, a lot of Belgium”, often Bruno Pitard.
For this genetics specialist, “who has worked for 30 years in this field”, this manipulation “is super complex”, and he has never tested it on humans.
“It’s quite simple to divert the use of an existing drug. But here, our genetic + drug, it is neither approved by the drug regulatory agencies, nor produced in large quantities, it has not undergone clinical tests on humans. In my opinion, we are very far from a doping use”, he assures.
– “Bio-hackers” –
“The gene therapy that we master today, if you do not have the scientific and industrial infrastructure, for the moment, you cannot do it. We are talking about billions of euros. Or else you have to a state industry,” said Gérard Dine, professor of biotechnology.
An opinion that does not share Olivier Rabin, the scientific director of the world anti-doping agency (WADA). “I have tangible elements to think that it’s not just theory,” he told AFP.
“Do we have proof of gene doping in athletes? The answer is no. There have sometimes been leads that we have followed but which have led us to classic products. products, behaviors (…) “bio-hackers” who are very interested in this genetic technique who even go so far as to produce it in their garages”, according to him.
“Things have become extremely democratized. We know that there are people who do these manipulations, and it may very well be athletes one day,” he says.
There is also the question of the ability of these anti-doping tests to detect such genetic manipulation, tests available to the International Testing Agency (ITA) and which, according to Olivier Rabin, are reliable and effective.
An affirmation that again leaves Professor Bruno Pitard perplexed: “Distinguishing, for example, the signature of EPO, its origin, it is very difficult, very subtle to see if EPO is produced by the muscle or by the kidneys. it would be very technical,” he said.