Genetic testing may be ready for Tokyo 2020

TOKYO • A "ground-breaking" new method of using gene testing to catch doping cheats could be ready in time for next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has revealed.

He predicted the new technology would allow blood doping to be identified even several months after banned performance-enhancing drugs, such as the blood-booster erythropoietin (EPO), had been used.

As things stand, some substances can be undetectable by testers after just a few hours.

"With research on genetic sequencing progressing well, this new approach could be a ground-breaking method to detect blood doping, weeks or even months after it took place," Bach told the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Poland.

"If approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), such new gene testing could be used already at Tokyo 2020.

"These new methods will again strengthen deterrence. We want the cheats to never feel safe, anytime or anywhere."

The new gene test has been pioneered by Yannis Pitsiladis, a professor of sports science and genetics at the University of Brighton, who has been developing it since 2006.

Using volunteer athletes, he has identified which genes are "turned on" when blood has been manipulated by either the use of a banned substance such as EPO, which boosts the production of red blood cells, or a transfusion.

Pitsiladis, a member of the IOC medical and scientific commission, believes it is the most significant development in the fight against anti-doping since the introduction of the athlete biological passport more than a decade ago.

Even if the new test is not validated in time for the Tokyo Games, the IOC intends to store more samples for future analysis.

Bach added: "This will add to the fact that the pre-Games testing programme for Tokyo 2020 will be the most extensive programme ever, aimed to maximise both detection and deterrence."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2019, with the headline 'Genetic testing may be ready for Tokyo 2020'. Print Edition | Subscribe