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Sports Med. 2005;35(10):831-40.

Erythropoietin abuse and erythropoietin gene doping: detection strategies in the genomic era.

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Department of Medicine, Endocrine Section, Medical School, University of Athens, Athens, Greece.


The administration of recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) increases the maximum oxygen consumption capacity, and is therefore abused as a doping method in endurance sports. The detection of erythropoietin (EPO) abuse is based on direct pharmacological and indirect haematological approaches, both of which have several limitations. In addition, current detection methods cannot cope with the emerging doping strategies of EPO mimicry, analogues and gene doping, and thus novel detection strategies are urgently needed. Direct detection methods for EPO misuse can be either pharmacological approaches that identify exogenous substances based on their physicochemical properties, or molecular methods that recognise EPO transgenes or gene transfer vectors. Since direct detection with molecular methods requires invasive procedures, it is not appropriate for routine screening of large numbers of athletes. In contrast, novel indirect methods based on haematological and/or molecular profiling could be better suited as screening tools, and athletes who are suspect of doping would then be submitted to direct pharmacological and molecular tests. This article reviews the current state of the EPO doping field, discusses available detection methods and their shortcomings, outlines emerging pharmaceutical and genetic technologies in EPO misuse, and proposes potential directions for the development of novel detection strategies.

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