Team:TUDelft/Human Practices




We want sport competitions to be fair and athletes to be protected against gene doping, the misuse of gene therapy in sports. People caught up in the rat race of doping development underestimate the implications of gene doping, that can stretch beyond sports into public health and social inequality. To get an overview of the design requirements for gene doping detection, we organized a discussion with experts, athletes and coaches at the University of Stirling. We implemented athletes’ wishes regarding invasivity, privacy and testing frequency into our detection method. Further interaction with stakeholders such as the Dutch Doping Authority and Oxford Nanopore Technologies made us add a prescreen and a barcoding tool to our detection method for versatile, high throughput and reliable detection. As a final challenge, we invited engineers to hack our detection method, and used their collective strength to improve our algorithm and anticipate future gene doping developments.

Find out more about Moniek's story below.
Find out more about our Hackathon.
Find out more about our IHP work in China.

In the dropdowns below you find a prompt overview of our goals, methods and conclusions and our approach respectively.

Table 1. Overview of our Goals, Methods and Conclusions within Integrated Human Practices. Click on the methods and be directed on the page.
Goals Methods Conclusions
Assessing the need for gene doping detection.
  • Up to 55% of the respondents would like to use gene doping for performance enhancement.
  • Many people engaged in a discussion on the relevance of our project.
  • The health and social issues associated with gene doping are very substantial.
  • Athletes need fair chances.
Integrating Stakeholder Feedback into our Design.
  • No sequence submitted by the cyber security specialists went undetected.
  • We implemented a quick and cheap prescreening.
  • We improved a barcoding tool to allow for multiplexing of samples.

As a team we highly value responsible research. Therefore, we wanted to make sure our project is responsible from the start till the end and beyond. To ensure a highly responsible project, we made our project pass through the phases that constitute Responsible Research and Innovation according to Stilgoe et al. (2013), i.e. anticipation, inclusion, reflection, and responsiveness.

The dimension of anticipation focuses on researchers investigating what is known, what is possible and what is likely in the field. This includes scenario building, making an assessment of their plausibility through interaction with experts as well as the general public, and the stimulation of an open and multidisciplinary collaboration. This we did through surveys, train debates, and through visiting conferences to learn about developments in the field and to make connections.

Subsequently, inclusion targets the process of open innovation and user-centered design. It focuses on transparency and collectively challenging regulations and standards. Grove-White et al. (2000) argue that the public conversation should stretch further to include the debate on future social worlds, while critically rethinking the ‘social constitutions’ inherent to the technological choices – that is, the ethical, political and social implications of the development. This we did during inclusion processes as the train debates and the expert discussion in Stirling.

Throughout the project, the process of reflexivity has continuously been going on. We are used to professional self-reflexivity during the complete product development process. Our team continuously challenged our detection and we even had an intra-team detection method hacking challenge. However, as was stated by Wynne et al. in 1993, responsibility makes reflexivity into a public matter too. According to Stilgoe et al. (2013) reflexivity demands scientists to publically combine their scientific and moral responsibilities. This has been a prominent focus from the choice of our topic till our final design as can be seen from our interaction with the many stakeholders involved and the design requirements we derived from that.

Lastly, we responded to all stakeholder input by making a value sensitive design by which we managed to answer all needs and preferences of our stakeholders to come to an optimal method.

1. Anticipation

As a first stage in Responsible Research and Innovation we focussed on addressing the need for gene doping detection as well as on making an assessment of the challenges constituting gene doping with respect to the future.

1.1 Relevance of Gene Doping Detection

Due to a lack of an implemented detection method it is hard to assess whether gene doping is currently happening. We can say now however that it is a more eminent threat than you might have expected.

In the timeline in figure 1 some of the most prominent events in gene doping development are sorted in time and as it appears gene doping might already be happening.

Timeline Figure 1. Timeline of gene doping use and development in society.
2003: Genedoping

The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) puts gene doping on the list of prohibited substances.

2004: Marathon mice

Geneticists at Howard Highes Medical Institute engineered so-called marathon mice that could run twice as far as normal mice by changing only a single gene, PPARdelta. (Wang et al. 2004)

2006: German Coach (Thomas Springstein) Suspected of Genetic Doping.

Thomas Springstein was a one-time coach of the German Athletics Association (DLV). He was convicted partly based on e-mail conversations, which were aquired by the police during a raid on his home. These e-mails brought up references to Repoxygen, a banned substance meant to be used in gene therapy to treat patients with anemia. Repoxygen helps to induce a controlled release of erythropoietin (EPO), a substance that stimulates the production of red blood cells, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen the blood can deliver to the muscles. It was under preclinical development by Oxford Biomedica as a possible treatment for anaemia but was abandoned in 2003. (Michael Reinsch, 28 January 2006).

2008: Chinese Doctor Offers Gene Doping to Athletes

A German television report was brought out on the availability of gene doping in China shortly before the Beijing Olympics. In this documentary produced by ARD television, a Chinese doctor offers stem cell therapy to a reporter posing as an American swimming coach in return for $24,000, according to a translation provided by the ARD television. The documentary broadcast does not offer evidence that the hospital has provided gene doping to other athletes, but it does provide a shocking insight into the doping development scene. (NBC News 2008)

2010: Gene Doping Detection: Evaluation of Approach for Direct Detection of Gene Transfer using Erythropoietin as a Model System

In two mouse studies, blood was positive for a plasmid in some animals for 1–2 days and up to 1 or 4 weeks after intramuscular or intravenous administration. The sensitivity of PCR methods used in these studies was 100 or 1000 vector copies per mg of gDNA. In another study with mice injected rAAV intramuscularly, 12 whole blood samples from a high-dose group tested positive for viral DNA until day 28, but viral DNA in plasma was cleared within 3–4 days. The sensitivity of the method for vector detection in this study is comparable to that for the assays developed here. (Baoutina et al. 2010)

2016: Officials Fear Some Olympic Athletes Might Be Altering Their Genes To Cheat In Rio

Sarah Everts reported for Chemical and Engineering News that officials planned to test 2016 Rio athletes' tissue samples for markers of gene doping. The most likely subject of a genetic hack appears to be the gene that codes for EPO. Therefore, this gene became what the officials planned to test for. (Letzter et al. 2016)

Athletes at Rio Olympics Face Advanced Antidoping Technology

According to the International Olympic Committee’s medical and scientific director, Richard Budgett, samples collected in Rio will be tested for gene doping at some point after the games, even though the test hasn’t been run during the Olympics itself. (Everts, 2016)

2017: Doping Control Analysis at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games

The EPO gene is mostly expressed in renal cells, from where the EPO protein is secreted into the bloodstream. The identification of any concentration of EPO DNA sequences in blood however, are considered a positive result for gene doping within current detection methods. Considering the growing concern over gene doping, as well as the EPO availability of new molecular biology tools, the Brazilian Doping Control Laboratory (LBCD) implemented, improved, and validated 2 amplification assays for EPO cDNA using the real-time PCR instrument QuantStudio12K (Thermo Fisher, São Paulo, Brazil). All work was performed with WADA-certified reference material for EPO gene doping within a range of 1 to 4000 copies of reference material spikes and EPO gene-doping-positive samples. However, in view of the absence of interlaboratory tests among the laboratories accredited by WADA, the analysis was not performed on the Olympic samples; it was only performed on samples selected exclusively for research. (Pereira, et al. 2017)

2018: ADOPE

Our enthusiastic team set out to tackle gene doping to promote responsible use of synthetic biology. Read more about our project here.

We assessed the topic further through train debates and public surveys complemented by athlete interviews and contact with the Dutch Doping Authority as well as sports organizations as NOC*NSF, the Dutch National Sports Organization, and a sports psychologist. We found that up to 55% of the general public would like to use gene doping for performance enhancement without necessarily ascertaining its safety. These high figures amongst the general public together with the enormous pressure that is put on athletes give an indication of the need for detection.

Given the huge amounts of money going on in doping development, gene doping will already be happening for sure!

Sports Coach Stirling

Survey Survey

Figure 2. Statistics on the willingness of the general public to use gene doping for performance enhancement in The Netherlands and The People’s Republic of China based on 181 and 126 respondents respectively. More on the surveys in The Netherlands and China can be found on the Education and Public Outreach Page.

1.2 Future Gene Doping Challenges

After we evaluated the relevance of gene doping detection, we focussed on the challenges of gene doping in the broadest context. We grouped the challenges involved in gene doping in the following categories: health (both private and public, global and intergenerational), responsibility and social inequality. As became apparent during the expert discussion in Stirling, exactly these topics make gene doping different from conventional types of doping.


Gene doping may be harmful to the athlete, especially when it comes to unregulated and barely tested methods. Risks of using gene doping include mutagenesis, uncontrolled gene expression levels and thereby disrupted feedback systems. For EPO, the risks include strokes and myocardial infarctions too. Gene doping might also cause acute humoral and cellular immune responses that may even invoke death. On top of this, there may be many additional unforeseen (long term) consequences.

We can never say gene doping is safe. There may be many unforeseen consequences.

Steve Chinn, Health Scientist at the University of Stirling

Apart from athlete health there are also public health risks inherent to gene doping use. There is a risk of viral spreading when unregulated therapies are brought to the market, which may pose a global and environmental threat. Also, unregulated implementation may lead to use of vectors that can infect athletes’ germ line, possibly causing harm to future generations. On top of this, the desire for performance enhancement is not only present within sports. Changing DNA for performance enhancement attracts public attention, and thereby might invoke public health hazards.

It is a big risk to have a healthy part of the population on gene doping, of which the consequences are still unsure.

Dr. Colin Moran, Professor in Genetics and Sports Science at the University of Stirling

Gene doping use is, just as more conventional doping, a decision made by the athlete. As became apparent from athlete interviews and surveys, athletes are under a lot of pressure to perform well, both intrinsically as well as by external stimuli from family and coaches e.g. Furthermore, due to the possibility of germ line infections, the responsibility of gene doping might not lie completely with a second generation athlete. The responsibility issue was a topic first brought up by an attendee at our presentation at the Delft Health Initiative and a topic we then further addressed in Stirling.

Social inequality has been a topic of discussion within current doping. Some types of material doping are allowed since, according to Moniek Nijhuis, an Olympic swimmer who told us her story, they 'are accessible to every athlete and do not harm athlete health'. However, many doping treatments are extremely expensive and not available to every athlete worldwide. This would include gene doping. On top of that, gene doping might have a lasting effect and has the potential to interfere with many more characteristics than just genes that enhance performance. Therefore, financial status could provide the rich only with the possibility of becoming a ‘better’ person when it comes to genetic constitution.

We addressed the challenges described above with the creation of our detection method and discussed the topics in our expert discussion at the University of Stirling. Here we talked about why gene doping detection is so important and why it is extremely important to unite strengths. You can watch the movie on this discussion below.

Video 1. Our expert discussion on the future of gene doping.

2. Inclusion

In Anticipation we discovered the topic of gene doping in the broadest sense, both scientifically as well as ethically and socially. Subsequently, we took it further as a part of the inclusion process to involve as many people as possible for optimal design requirements for everyone. Here are some of the approaches we took in involving people from science, from sports as well as the general public.

2.1 Science

Here we elaborate on science related events that have largely influenced our project. At reflection and responsiveness we elaborate on individual stakeholders that have changed our project.


From our surveys we knew that 98% of the public feels strongly about maintaining strict doping controls. People feel that sports is only moderately fair and 75% is afraid of gene doping becoming a big problem in sports. These figures, and the strong collective spirit that was stressed in Stirling, prompted us to involve cyber security specialists in the fight against gene doping through the design of possible gene doping sequences.

On October 5th, 2018 we therefore organized a Hackathon at the Cyber Security Week in the Fokker Terminal in The Hague. The goal: engaging the public and especially computer scientists in developing their own gene doping sequences. We developed a software tool that learns from the ever growing database our participants helped create. In this way, we improve gene doping detection together, so that we are able to detect new approaches in gene doping and to be one step ahead of the doping developers. We think that together we are stronger, inspiring each other. Many computer scientists joined our event and provided us with useful input from a different perspective.

Figure 3. An impression of our Hackathon where we challenged cyber security specialists to hack our method.

Stirling Expert Discussion on the Future of Gene Doping

We met professor Dimeo, Associate Professor in Sport from Stirling University, at the VvBN (Dutch Society for Movement Science) conference in Utrecht on May 17. We stayed in touch and received great input from him on social aspects of doping as athlete privacy, behavior, regulation and education. This resulted in mutual interest in each other’s research activities upon which we were invited to give a seminar on our project for experts in the field of doping and genetics at the University of Stirling on August 30th 2018. After this seminar we organized a discussion on how gene doping is different from currently more conventional types of doping and on how to best react to these differences, through regulation and/or education. In the drop-down below the case studies we prepared for the discussion can be found.

Moniek Nijhuis
Figure 4. Twitter comments on our seminar and expert discussion in Stirling, showing the impact and some new questions that arose.

Many vectors could be used for transfecting people with gene doping. Some of them might be able to (accidentally) infect peoples’ germ line cells, thereby affecting their offspring. And there is the concept of designer babies where parents can decide on their children’s characteristics? In some countries this is more under debate than in others.


  • With whom resides the responsibility if this child becomes an athlete and how could we solve this problem?
  • During illegal doping, vectors might also be released into the environment, affecting other organisms. How big would this problem be and how could we map and control it?
  • How can we learn from other examples of intergenerational responsibility?
  • How can we control gene doping throughout society in a world where bioethical views differ over cultures?

Suppose, at some point gene doping detection works about as well as the detection of the doping methods that are more conventional now. Gene therapy however, has come to be extremely safe. The border between medical and performance enhancing treatments is fading away and it has become extremely cheap and accessible to everyone.


  • Do we still want to combat gene doping in this case?
  • The objective of sports as was set out by Ancient Greek tradition was the creation of the perfect human. With a case like this, are we bypassing this objective or enabling it?
  • Would human characteristics converge or rather diverge, making sports either totally uniform or extremely scattered over niches?
  • Before this time, how would athlete behavior be in comparison with more conventional doping?
  • How do and would athletes deal with undesired side effects?
  • What do these findings imply for possible current measures?

During the discussion we identified a list of points that differ for gene doping compared to other kinds of doping. This list is given in figure 5. The overall conclusion is that more attention should be paid to educating athletes on the risks above just regulating. Many athletes are not educated well about gene doping in particular and would therefore easily trust coaches etc. at the sports facility to take something of which they themselves are not able to oversee the consequences.

Gene doping versus conventional doping
Figure 5. List of the differing factors between gene doping and more conventional doping.

Another topic addressed during the discussion was that we cannot easily say that gene doping could become ‘safe’ at some point. It is possible that it becomes apparent that we have been messing around with certain feedback loops which has broader health implications on longer terms after some years. We cannot know with some initial studies. It is this what makes that we should be keep prohibiting gene doping according to the majority of experts present at the discussion. On top of this, differences in accessibility, which you also already see in training facilities and equipment, were used as arguments against gene doping.

Furthermore, it was brought up that there will always be differences between athletes, due to inherently different responses to gene therapies. Therefore, if everyone would be using gene doping, it is just like taking a step to somewhat higher performance, which will then level out again in time. So what would we achieve with doing it?

As became apparent in the discussion, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) is not very open about gene doping to athletes and scientists. However, according to the experts at the conference, openness and involvement of the community could help a lot with the development of detection methods. This reinforces the community strength approach we take with for example the hackathon.

Engagement in Asia

The way people value sports is just as diverse as the people who love it, all around the globe. That is why it is important to weigh opinions not only in the Netherlands, but in the Peoples’ Republic of China as well. During our time there organizing the iGEM Eurasian Meetup, we spoke with Dr. Li Wei at NIFTY prenatal screening, who works with cell free DNA as well. He confirmed our assumptions on the cfDNA levels in the blood and outlined several possibilities of detecting it, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of next generation sequencing with us.

In addition, we spoke with Mr. Cao Jun, CEO of Sports Genomics Inc., on the future of genetic enhancement in amateur sports. His department’s main focus lies with helping people choose a sport that fits them based on their genetic information. For them, the border lies with reading the genetic information and recommending a course of action based on this, not enhancing.

During our time in China we furthermore handed out surveys in the streets, buses and subways. This gave some very interesting results as is further described on our Education and Public Outreach Page.

2.2 General Public

Train Debates and the Public Opinion

On the June 26th, we extended the Belgian Biotechnology Day to The Netherlands. We wanted to open up the discussion on synthetic biology with a broad public. In order to find a diverse audience we organized train debates all over The Netherlands. The topic we chose was gene editing, which at the same time provided us with valuable information for our project. We spoke with people with radically different ideas and background. We even happened to talk to a professional soccer player who was, anonymously, quite open in admitting he would use gene doping if it was safe and undetectable.

If gene doping is safe and undetectable, then everyone would use it. So why not me?

Anonymous Athlete

Traindebates throughout the Netherlands
Figure 6. The paths we travelled by train throughout The Netherlands to engage in discussions with people.

More information on the scientific background of the set-up of our surveys and the results we achieved in both The Netherlands and China (during our visit to China for the EurAsian Meetup) can be found on the Education and Engagement page.

2.3 Athlete and Sport Institution Interaction


Apart from interaction with the general public and the diversity of experts present at the discussion in Stirling, we find it highly important to talk to athletes to see their perspective and take their experience and values into account.

Cameron Brodie

Cameron Brodie is a former professional swimmer, Scottish Record Holder (6x), British Champion (2015) and Commonwealth Games Medalist (2x), who performed at this top level next to his studies at the University of Stirling. He has only had experience with urine tests, the preferable testing method. However, he did say that blood tests would not be a huge problem, since as an athlete being in the competition is worth that.

Cameron Brodie
Figure 7. The paths we travelled by train throughout The Netherlands to engage in discussions with people.
Moniek NijhuisIf blood testing necessary that is just the way it is, the testing is just inherent to sports and as an athlete all you want is to be in the competition so you have to comply.

According to Brodie, the pressure to perform well is “really tough”. He can imagine young athletes being vulnerable to people approaching them with gene doping opportunities. It was only in lectures of his sport related University study program that he first learned about gene doping. He himself, would not like to use it though, because one cannot oversee the consequences.

Moniek Nijhuis

Being rewarded for your hard work is valuable for sporters. Moniek Nijhuis, finalist Olympic Games 2012 and medalist at multiple European and World Championships, told us her story about one of the bronze medals she won at the European Championships 2013. Two years later, this bronze medal turned out to be worth silver due to doping usage by one of her opponents. However, her moment of euphoria on the stage, which is the moment that sporters are striving for, will never return.

Moniek NijhuisI just wanted to know that what I achieved is purely due to my own power and efforts. That still makes me feel good and at peace.

Watch her view on doping use here.

Video 2. An interview with Moniek Nijhuis, professional swimmer.
Sports Organizations and Athlete Surveys

We contacted several sports organizations including the Court of Arbitration for Sport and a sports psychologist, Jef Brouwers. Both were not aware of any cases of Gene Doping. Mr. Brouwers did indicate however that he is aware of athletes carefully selecting their partners to have children that hopefully will perform well in sport again.

Apart from this we contacted the National Dutch sports organization, the NOC*NSF, to hear about their experiences with gene doping. However, as they pointed out, they are not very familiar with the concept and the idea of it actually happening. They wanted to help to find out about the prevalence of gene doping though and set the initial steps to send out our athlete survey to all Dutch top level athletes. What became apparent from the athlete surveys we had already send out is that athletes highly value quick detection with a result within a few days. Furthermore, athletes tend to not mind privacy invasive tests, since they see it as inherent to the desire to be in sports. To us nevertheless, athletes' comfort and well-being remain top priority at all times.

3. Reflection and Responsiveness

Apart from the science related events, we have talked to many individual stakeholders and integrated their feedback into our design, as can be seen from our Value Sensitive Design.

3.1 Value Sensitive Design

Based on the interaction with all stakeholders we then created a Value Sensitive Design to improve our strengths and reduce our weaknesses to satisfy everyone’s needs and preferences. In figure 8, an overview is given of our values, how they are related to values we identified through interaction and the design requirements that we implemented based on this. Below you can read more about how the stakeholders have influenced us in every step of our project.


Figure 8. Value Sensitive Design flowing from the core values of ADOPE through stakeholder values to the implemented design requirements.

3.2 Influencers

There have been many people that have had impact on our project as can be seen in figure 9. Below we list the ones that have directly impacted the paths we walked in our project and how these stakeholders influenced us.

Network of stakeholders
Figure 9. Interaction figure of important stakeholder contact.

Sample Preparation

The Dutch National blood bank, Sanquin, has been of great influence for the development of our sample preparation. Sanquin is specialized in blood analysis and has it's own research departments to keep improving and developing new methods for the analysis of blood. Sanquin is responsible for all donor blood in the Netherlands, but is for example also specialized in tests focusing on the fetal cell free DNA in a mother's blood. This knowledge about analysis of DNA extracted from blood was exactly what was needed to develop a secure and optimized sample preparation for our project, ADOPE.

Two visits were made to Sanquin, one general introduction visit and one specialized visit where the specific DNA extraction method was taught to some of us. Aicha Ait Soussand and Ellen van der Schoot of the Experimental Immunohematology group of Sanquin helped us by explaining how they work with small fragments and DNA extraction and gave us access to their optimized extraction protocol used with the QIAmp DNA Blood Mini Kit. Since isolation of fragmented cell free DNA out of blood and white blood cells can be quite a hard challenge because of the low concentrations, the experience of Sanquin helped a lot in optimizing our DNA extraction method. In addition, they pointed at the delay in red blood cell development, which gave us the idea to extend our model to include the whole process of gene doping and its effect.

Targeted Sequencing

Professor on Therapeutic Gene Modulation Hidde Haisma gave us insight in the most attractive methods for athletes for gene doping. Also, he gave us information on the detection possibilities for gene doping, for example the presence of exon-exon junctions due to the removal of introns, a distinct promotor for increased expression and viral vectors to penetrate into the human cells. Furthermore, he inspired us with his research in whole genome sequencing for gene doping detection and his limitations concerning data analysis. Reducing our data output for less complicated data analysis became one of our requirements for our gene doping detection method.

Moniek NijhuisI expect athletes that would be using gene doping now to use either plasmids or adenoviruses as vectors.

Alina Ham, Gerard Coyne and Angelica Vittori from Oxford Nanopore Technologies inspired us to adapt our initial idea, which would involve detection of target sequences based on dCas9-affinity and subsequent nanopore blocking. The forces exerted by the motor protein were suggested to overcome dCas9 affinity, and were most likely to push off the DNA-binding protein. This important advice made us change our project from a detection method based on signal absence towards a methodology striving for targeted sequencing.

Fusion Protein for Targeted Sequencing and Library Preparation

The idea for our fusion protein came through several phases. We read about Zinc finger and Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), but wanted to improve on the versatility to anticipate the plethora of changes that could be made to the genes used as gene doping. Therefore, we came up with a Cas9 based protein with a flexible guide RNA library after elaborate discussions with amongst others prof. Stan Brouns. Later, during a presentation at the Delft Health Initiative, CRISPR experts challenged our approach because of the on and off target effects of dxCas9, but praised our idea for its versatility and thereby its probably functionality.

Prof. Chirlmin Joo and Viktoria Globyte advised us on this functionality of our fusion protein in its early stages, providing us with a confident start of the wet lab fusion protein production.

Moniek NijhuisCas9 scanning and kicking off from non-target DNA is faster than transposase cutting.

Multiplexing and Barcoding

Professor Hagan Bayley from Oxford University, one of the founders of Oxford Nanopore Technologies, pointed at the enrichment of our sample. This prompted us to focus on an extensive sample preparation. On top of this, prof. Bayley said that multiplexing and accompanying barcoding would be a big advantage, which we then set out to implement, improving upon an existing iGEM barcoding tool.

Moniek NijhuisADOPE’s ingenious approach to foreign gene detection pushes the frontiers of forensic analysis.


Olivier de Hon, principal scientist at the Dutch Doping Authority, gave us highly valuable insights into the requirements that the doping authorities set for a detection method. A conversation with him resulted in our focus on the nanoparticle based prescreening method.

Moniek NijhuisThe initial costs are not very important in doping detection development. What does matter is that we should be able to efficiently upscale the detection.

Minimizing out of Competition Testing

As became apparent from the interviews with Moniek Nijhuis and Cameron Brodie, out of competition testing can be highly privacy invasive in the sense that athletes always need to keep track of where they go. Therefore, we found it important to assess how to reduce testing time and optimally schedule possible testing points to have least impact on the athletes every-day life. To determine the optimal detection point for gene doping, we developed a model of the human body response to EPO gene doping, incorporating the blood cell development in the bone marrow based a suggestion by the Dutch National blood bank Sanquin.

Furthermore, Prof. Paul Dimeo from Stirling University prompted us to focus on athlete behavior, to think with them and thereby be a step ahead. We focussed on different administration methods for gene doping (intravenous and intramuscular) and on the effects of microdosing EPO gene doping. In this way we determined that our method could best be included in out of competition testing. See our model.


For our team safety does not only come first. We prefer to say “safety always”. That is why we actively incorporated safety throughout our project, from the topic choice, focussing on responsible use of synthetic biology, to the product development, consisting of a cell free device. The RIVM, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, advised us on this. We concluded that from an environmental perspective unregulated gene doping use throughout society might pose another threat and thereby a reason for detection, at least in sports, and further awareness throughout society. In the image below an overview is given of how we incorporated safety throughout our project.

The vectors people in society would use for gene doping might in time also pose an environmental threat, depending on the vectors.

Cécile van der Vlugt, RIVM

Infographic Figure 10. Infographic Safety-by-Design.
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The Future of our Method

The Dutch Doping Authority has shown interest in the implementation of our method and the Delft Sport Engineering Institute is interested in further support of our research. More on this can be read on the Entrepreneurship page. On top of this, we identified another market interested in our gene doping detection method: horse racing. Gene doping lately receives huge interest in the horse racing world. Earlier this year, the 37th Asian Racing Conference in Seoul specifically focussed on gene doping (Bloodhorse, 17 May 2018), illustrating the imminent threat of gene doping in this world.

Argentinian scientists have started performing gene editing on horses, and it is speculated that the first super-horse is likely to be produced by them as early as 2019.

Dr. Teruaki Tozaki, technical advisor for the Laboratory of Racing Chemistry in Japan (Bloodhorse, 17 May 2018)

This year the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine even received $300.000 dollar towards the development of a gene doping detection system according to Kim Yuhl in the Online Pennsylvania Play Magazine (Yuhl et al. June 22, 2018). The Dutch Horse Racing Association has shown great interest in our product as we discuss on our Entrepreneurship page.

Apart from direct gene doping applications, the Dutch National Bloodbank Sanquin is working on methods for prenatal screening of diseases for which they have shown great interest in our method. On top of this, the RIKILT, the Dutch Research Department for Food Safety at Wageningen University and Research, world’s number 1 university for food technology, has shown interest in our method for safe food applications. These are only a few of the variety of extended applications of our targeted sequencing method. The Stan Brouns Lab at Delft University of Technology is so enthusiastic about our project that they want to develop our method of targeted sequencing for broader applications. Nevertheless, the fight against gene doping might be continued as well depending on a big grant application we started. Read more on the steps we have been taking towards the future applications on our Entrepreneurship page.


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