As technology becomes more available to modify genes, athletes are looking for ways to bolster their performance and bend the rules to get ahead in their field.
Lee Sweeney, a physiologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, first discovered in the 1990s that by activating a protein known as IGF-1 in mice, the rodents were able to become 30 percent stronger.
The scientists was contacted by the likes of body builders at the time of his discovery, but told them he was not interested in performing the technique on humans.
The World-Anti Doping agency in sports have made moves to ban gene therapies, such as “gene doping” which was banned in 2003 and defined as the “nontherapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or modulation of gene expression, having the capacity to enhance performance.”
However, the technology used by Mr Sweeney is now used to treat patients with rare diseases such as immunodeficiency, chronic granulomatous disorder, haemophilia, blindness, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases by merging missing genes into skeletal muscles, making them virtually impossible to detect.
Mr Sweeney told CNN: “So because of that, it is now at a point where potentially it could be used by athletes.
“It could be done today in athletes if some company and government would put the resources (in) to make it happen.”
Another way of editing genes would be using the CRISPR, or CRISPR-Cas9, which sees scientists alter a specific part of the genome by altering DNA.
Mr Sweeney said: “There’s a couple of ways you can use CRISPR-Cas9. One is to take cells from a person, modify those cells and put them back into the person, and that is probably the safest way to use it.
“The other way to use it, which is to modify your existent DNA in the body, is potentially very unsafe.”