Specialists at JGU develop tests to detect gene doping and individual exercise concepts for therapeutic purposes as well as for popular sports and for high-performance athletes
The specialists for Sports Medicine at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) are already in the starting blocks: Their ambitious objective is to develop a routine test for gene doping in time for the London Olympic Games in 2012. With the completion of the new Laboratory for Molecular Exercise Physiology on the JGU campus in January 2011, they are now ready to start working on this and other projects.
Professor Perikles Simon, specialist in sports medicine and neuroscientist, came to Mainz University in 2009 as director of the Division of Sports Medicine, Prevention, and Rehabilitation. Working in close collaboration with his former colleagues in Tübingen, Simon developed a test that uses conventional blood samples to provide conclusive proof of gene doping. The process was presented in September 2010, and applications have been submitted for the relevant international patents. There was previously no practicable method that could be used to determine whether an athlete had undergone doping using EPO or other genes. Indeed, it was thought that there was no way a corresponding test could be developed. It is not yet clear to what extent athletes are already using gene transfer as a method of enhancing performance. Over the year 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will be contributing more than half a million US dollars to the project to develop a routine test for gene doping, which may be available in time for the next Olympic Games.
With the Laboratory for Molecular Exercise Physiology now on track, the field of Sports Medicine at Mainz University will increasingly be focusing on aspects of customized diagnostics and treatment. This is a new approach that takes individual personal circumstances into account when it comes to tailoring exercise to the demands of mass and professional sports, and, more particular even, to the stringent requirements of therapeutic applications. To this end, JGU's Sports Medicine and the University Medical Center Mainz are planning close collaboration - starting in projects on colon cancer, autoimmune disorders, and psychological disorders. "Exercise increases levels of free circulating DNA in the blood - a circumstance that may help us for improve diagnostics" explains Professor Simon. The participating researchers hope that they will not only be able to improve the reliability of diagnostic tests for primary disorders, but also to better adapt adjuvant sport and exercise therapy concepts to the needs of individual patients. "Patients respond differently to sport and exercise; in some cases, the outcome is very good. But others do not respond at all or even experience deterioration of their status." The idea is to use molecular diagnostics in order to predict what adjuvant therapy approach is likely to be most beneficial. As it becomes possible to directly account for more and more blood parameters, popular and high-performance sport will be revolutionized: it may even be possible to develop sophisticated analytical techniques that can show whether a further intensification of training will result in improvement of performance or not.
For their work on molecular biology and genetics, Simon and his team have one biosafety level BSL 1 laboratory and four BSL 2 genetic technology laboratories at their disposal. JGU is thus one of the few universities in Germany equipped to carry out molecular and genetic research in sports medicine. The construction costs amounting to €1.2 million were granted under the second phase of the Knowledge Creates Future program of Rhineland-Palatinate. Furthermore, research projects in the field of Sports Medicine are sponsored by groups such as the Dr. Gerhard and Martha Röttger Foundation and the Kalkhof-Rose Foundation. In developing the gene doping test, Mainz University's Division of Sports Medicine is collaborating with the University Hospital in Tübingen, Germany and with the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in Trieste in Italy.