Last month here at Pappillon, we revealed that one of Denmark's leading blood researchers believed that Lance Armstrong's blood values from the 2009 Tour de France were suspicious and could be indicative of blood doping. We followed the story when the main stream media wussed-out (except for cyclingnews.com, where Shane Stokes made a valiant effort), documented what others were saying, shared our own opinions, made scientific fact and proven theory accessible through this site, and, most of all, made it clear that we still believe doping is a problem in pro cycling and that Jakob Mørkebjerg's claims shouldn't be dismissed outright.
Not surprisingly, Lance Armstrong didn't agree, and he lamely offered a four-letter response via Twitter to the serious questions that Mørkebjerg's insights raised in the eyes of the public: "SSDD".
But is doping (and the talk of doping) in cycling really just the "same shit, different day," scenario that The Lance would have us believe? To explore that question more deeply, Pappillon's newest guest contributor Duane Corbett shares his thoughts on the potential for gene-doping to infect cycling:
What is The Future of Doping?
- Same stuff, Different Day?
- Old stuff, Different Day?
- New stuff, Different day?
Since there were no positive drug tests at the 2009 Tour de France it appears no one was doing the same stuff this year. However, several suspicious drugs were recovered at the race including sitagliptin (anti-diabetic), valpromide (anti-convulsant), telmisartan (anti-hypertensive), and quinapril (anti-hypertensive). It is important to note that the latter two may be linked to some of the old stuff as hypertension is a known adverse effect of blood transfusion.
Going into the 2009 Tour de France, many predicted the practice of autologous blood transfusions to be present among riders. And why not? While tests have been developed to test for the use of synthetic EPO and homologous blood transfusions, there is still no definitive test for autologous doping; only the biological passport, which compares riders blood level records to permissible limits. So while the previous implementation of permissible limits may be seen as a green light, the biological passport may be seen as a speed bump.
Let’s quickly remind ourselves what someone’s blood samples would look like if they were transfusing themselves with their own blood. Where you would normally see a decline in red blood cells, hematocrit, and hemoglobin over the period of several days racing, someone transfusing themselves with their own blood would always have that same fresh and replenished baseline they started with. The only problem is so would someone with diarrhea.
Now that the old stuff and the same stuff have been covered, what are the possibilities of new stuff? With the finding of such drugs like sitagliptin and valpromide, we can’t help but wonder what is, or what could be, going on right now that we don’t know about.
One of the biggest fears of anti-doping authorities is the introduction of gene doping. Dr. Theodore Friedmann, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency's gene doping panel has been quoted to say, “It will happen, but we don't know when.” Unfortunately, it may have happened already.
In 2008, scientists discovered orally active agents that genetically switch on an endurance gene signature that was shown to increase running endurance by 44% in sedentary mice. The first target of these drugs is PPARδ, a transcriptional regulator, and the second is AMPK, a serine-threonine kinase. Both PPARδ and AMPK contribute to metabolic reprogramming and are respectively targeted by the drugs GW1516 and AICAR.
A link to a brief video that would make anyone feel like a leading researcher on the topic is available here. The research article in its entirety is available here.
While these drugs have only been tested in animals, the gap in time since their discovery opens possibility for human interaction. Although we do not know if it is happening now, we do know that the era of gene doping, or new stuff, different day, is uncomfortably close.
--Duane Corbett is a doctoral student in exercise physiology at Kent State University. His research, focused primarily on cycling, has previously examined the relationship between preferred pedal rates and perceived exertion, while current research involvement is examining the effect of cycling on Parkinson’s disease. A former collegiate cyclist, he is the founder of the current Indiana University of Pennsylvania Cycling Team.
[Editor's Note: A Special Thanks to Duane for contributing this first of what we hope are many pieces for Pappillon. Readers, please don't hesitate to provide constructive feedback via the Comments, and should you feel your work merits it, contact us with submissions for publication as posts.]