Gene Doping: Who Needs Steroids?

The introduction of exogenous anabolic steroid testing at a number of Thoroughbred auctions has been a positive development. It addresses an issue that has become a major controversy in sports and it also discourages sellers from attempting to artificially enhance the appearance of a young horse beyond what is natural.

But on the horizon is a bigger threat. Just get on your computer and google "gene doping." Because of the Olympics, there has been a flurry of stories about how it can be used to enhance performance and build muscle mass.

Scientists have found they can inject a gene into the body and trigger growth in specific tissues like muscle. It would be very difficult to detect in a test because the body's own genetic instructions are triggering the changes, not a foreign substance.

In a recent story by the Baltimore Sun's David Kohn, Se-Jin Lee a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University talked about his experiments on mice in which their muscle mass was increased 60% with just two injections given over two weeks. This happened without exercising the mice at all.

If this can be done on mice, people who breed, sell, and race horses might already be trying to use gene doping or probably will be in the near future.

In addition, according to Kohn's report, stem cells offer still yet another avenue for achieving the same sort of results.

The fight for integrity at the sales, it seems, will be an endless one when it comes to drugs and technology for improving how a horse looks.


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