The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), in collaboration with the Karolinska Institute and the Swedish Sports Confederation, held a workshop meeting in Stockholm on the subject of gene doping in sport on 4-5 December 2005.
The meeting was the second such meeting sponsored by WADA, the first being the workshop held at the Banbury Center, Long Island, New York, in March 2002. The Stockholm meeting included more than 50 participants from 15 countries and included geneticists and other biomedical scientists, ethicists, public policy experts, representatives of the International Olympic Committee, and the broad international sports community.
“In gathering top experts in various fields related to gene transfer, this symposium has helped us measure the progress of gene therapy and of detection methods for the potential misuse of gene doping by athletes, as well as broaden our perspective of the global issue,” said Dr Olivier Rabin, WADA Science Director. “Most experts do not think that gene transfer is being used by athletes yet. But we know that some athletes may be tempted to use it one day to enhance their performance. That is why WADA takes the issue so seriously.”
The participants discussed the current scientific, ethical and public policy issues related to the possibility of gene transfer for the purpose of enhancing athletic performance and reached agreement on the following principles and conclusions:
Clinical results indicate that gene transfer for the purpose of therapy (gene therapy) now represents a proven, although very immature and still experimental field of human medicine and is an important area of biomedical research with great promise for the uniquely effective correction of many other serious and intractable human diseases.
Clinical research in human gene therapy is filled with many recognized and unrecognized pitfalls and dangers. All gene transfer procedures in human subjects and patients should be required to abide by established principles and codes governing gene transfer on human subjects, with special emphasis on full disclosure of the nature and dangers of a procedure and fully informed consent by participants. Such manipulations should also be carried out strictly in accordance with existing local and national rules and regulations for gene transfer on human subjects.
The participation of physicians and other licensed professionals in gene transfer procedures that are not fully compliant with such standards of human clinical research and human experimentation should be considered medical malpractice and/or professional misconduct.
Greater interactions should be encouraged among the sports community, professional scientific organizations, licensing agencies and clinical research oversight bodies to stimulate awareness of the potential illicit use of gene transfer techniques for athletic and other enhancement purposes and to develop appropriate sanction mechanisms for illegal/or unethical application of gene transfer in sport. Public discussion on the prospect of gene-based enhancement should be promoted.
The vigorous research program that has been instituted by WADA has led to significant progress toward a better understanding of the genetic and physiological effects of doping and of scientifically rigorous methods for more effective detection of pharmacological and gene-based doping. Scientific progress made through the WADA-supported research studies that were summarized at the conference suggests that new detection methods are likely to emerge and will help to prevent tainting of sport by gene doping. Research programs instituted by WADA and other anti-doping organizations should be supported. Academic, private and government research organizations should be encouraged to dedicate resources to further progress to deter gene doping.
The use of genetic information to select for or discriminate against athletes should be strongly discouraged. This principle does not apply to legitimate medical screening or research.
Sports organizations at all levels, from student and amateur levels to international elite levels, should promote knowledge about the potential dangers associated with the misuse of genetic manipulations for athletic enhancement.
“Issues related to gene transfer are multiple,” said Karolinska Institutet’s Professor Arne Ljungqvist, Chair of WADA Health, Medical and Research Committee. “This fruitful meeting has helped address them and reached very encouraging conclusions. We will continue to work hard and to dedicate significant resources to the development of detection methods and policies so that gene doping never becomes a major issue in sport.”
“The symposium has sent a further shot across the bow of those who think we will not be able to detect gene doping,” added Professor Theodore Friedmann, Chair of WADA Gene Doping Panel. “My advice to them is: don’t be so sure. This is a very dangerous road to proceed on, and we will be ready to halt the traffic.”