July 30, 2008
You knew it was coming. Steroids, human growth hormone, Epo. Now comes the story of a potential stem cell doping scandal brewing in China right before the Olympics. A German documentary crew used a hidden camera to film a reporter, posing as a swimming coach, being offered a performance-enhancing stem cell treatment by a Chinese doctor. The price: a mere $24,000. The doctor recommended several injections, and noted that “We have no experience with athletes here, but the treatment is safe and we can help you.” He claimed that the injected stem cells could strengthen lung function, as well as go to other organs. No mention of what type of stem cells were going to be used, or exactly how they were supposed to help the athletes. Gene doping experts were shocked when they saw the documentary, but also expressed doubts whether the treatment described by the doctor would enhance performance. One would also expect that it would be easy to detect the use of donor stem cells simply by looking for DNA patterns in the blood or tissue samples that were different from the athlete’s DNA. But still, looks like here is another example of abuse about which authorities will have to be on guard.