Wearable tech can help beat doping in sport

Wearable tech can help beat doping in sport

As the cheats become more sophisticated, experts speak about detecting gene and protein abuse

Wearable tech can help beat doping in sport

Dr David Gould

Biotechnology researcher at Queen Mary, University of London

Wearable GPS and motion sensors already have a big impact on athletic training and performance. The introduction of remote monitoring of molecules in sweat opens new possibilities for checking an athlete’s metabolism and to some extent could aid the policing of doping in sport. This could work to detect small molecule drugs excreted in sweat or with drugs known to have unique effects on blood chemistry.

However, it is less clear how applicable they would be in the detection of abuse with proteins and genes; these molecules are either delivered locally in tissues or systemically but few proteins and limited amounts of DNA are detected in sweat. To be effective, athletes would have to strictly adhere to wearing sensors for an agreed time and be penalised for lack of compliance.

Dr Hidde Haisma
Member of the gene doping expert group of the World Anti-Doping Agency

The techniques we are developing to detect gene doping are based on detecting DNA in the blood. If an athlete used the erythropoietin gene for doping it would be a variant of the natural gene and could be detected.

But if other methods were used, such as genetically stimulating the human gene already there, it would be impossible to detect. My view is that the only way is to do full sequencing. A wearable biosensor could indicate some forms of doping.
The next step would be a blood test and a full measurement.

Dr Stephanie Corriero
University of Massachusetts Medical School; lead author of studies to monitor cocaine use using wearables.

The biosensors continuously measure an individual’s physiology. The ones that I am using just measure what your body is doing, your heart rate, your electrical activity, the amount you are sweating.

One of the most important things with biosensors is we have to figure out what the fingerprint is of a particular condition before we can detect it.

If someone were wearing the biosensor when they administered a stimulant-type drug we would be able to detect that, but whether someone’s performance when they were on a stimulant type drug would be different to their performance when they were not, we would have to test that.

Unless the physiological parameters are super-physiologic [ie beyond “normal” limits] I don’t think [wearable bio sensors would detect] gene doping — I think it would probably be restricted to stimulant-type chemicals.

Jo Pavey Mbe
British long-distance runnerand Olympian

I would be prepared to wear wristbands. It would probably have a lot of trials but it would be good to start. While we have people prepared to cheat and there should be things that athletes are required to sign up to. Athletes have to take responsibility for assisting in the cleaning up of the sport.

[Also] keeping samples for longer, acting on blood data and tests to overcome the fact that people are possibly microdosing. The fight against people doping isn’t ever going be one thing, it is always going to be lots of different things coming together to win that fight — tracking could be one of those things.