2012 July 30 Monday
Genetically Equal Olympic Athletes?

Since super athletes have genes that make them far more able to compete some argue that sporting competitions are just elaborate games aimed at identifying who has the best genetic sequences. Great sporting competitions, whether professional or amateur, end up turning into elaborate mechanisms for filtering for the most genetically well endowed. Falling genetic sequencing costs promise to take away the need for sporting competitions for this purpose. Lore Sjöberg argues that in order to make great athletic contests more a measure of training effort and training program quality the various countries of the world should start out with genetically identical clones.

Why not level the genetic playing field?

Here’s the plan: We use genetic engineering to create a human being who is genetically average in every way, clone him — or her, we can flip a coin — and issue one Average Athlete Baby to each country to raise as they choose. Then, 18 years later, every country brings their Average Athlete Adult to whichever world-class city hasn’t suffered enough, and all the AAAs compete. In every event. They all must run a sprint, and a marathon, and shoot arrows and wrestle each other and do whatever “dressage” is. (I don’t know, but it sounds even kinkier than clone wrestling.)

I come down on the opposite side of the athletic doping debate: Why not legitimize both the natural genetic and biotechnological competitions in sports? Potential athletes should be genetically screened for the capacity to compete.Those with poorer genetic endowments should be free to seek gene therapies that will enhance their bodies to the point where they can compete with the naturally genetically great athletes.

Many major sporting organizations such as the Olympics, to keep out those using drugs to boost performance. Well, time to turn our backs on those boring natural athletic competitions. We should instead have sporting events dedicated to those who use athletic doping drugs, gene therapy, and cell therapy. Sports can push the biotechnological envelope and, in doing so, create medically useful innovations for the rest of us.

For example, most people reading this are on a declining slope for the amount of lean muscle mass in their body. This phenomenon, known as sarcopenia, starts at around age 25. Drugs, gene therapies, and cell therapies developed to boost muscle mass and extend an athlete's performance into their 30s and 40s could potentially also help the old frail who have very little muscle mass left.

Car racers have innovated quite a bit to enhance the performance of cars. By the same token, those who race with their bodies could do the same for biotechnology and human health.

By Randall Parker    2012 July 30 10:14 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2010 April 27 Tuesday
Anabolic Steroid Use Impairs Heart?

A dozen anabolic steroid using weight lifters, average age 40, were found to have heart function that is not so good.

DALLAS, April 27, 2010 — Long-term anabolic steroid use may weaken the heart more than previously thought and may increase the risk of heart failure, according to research reported in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids mimic the naturally occurring testosterone, a muscle-building hormone that promotes male sexual characteristics.

“Anabolic steroids, in addition to being illegal, have important health consequences,” said Aaron L. Baggish, M.D., lead author of the study and instructor in the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “I think for the first time we’re starting to realize that the heart is one of the organs that is negatively impacted by long-term steroid use.”

In the small study, investigators found that the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber, was significantly weaker during contraction (systolic function) in participants who had taken steroids compared to a group of similar non-steroid users.

Any readers long time users of anabolic steroids? Gotten your heart function measured lately?

Lower left ventricle ejection fraction, impaired diastolic function. Not good.

A healthy left ventricle pumps out 55 percent to 70 percent of the blood that fills the heart (a measurement known as ejection fraction). Eighty-three percent of steroid users in the 12-person study had a low pumping capacity (ejection fraction less than 55 percent) that previous studies have linked to increased risk of heart failure and sudden cardiac death. In contrast, only one of the non-steroid users had a low ejection fraction.

Steroid users also exhibited impaired diastolic function, which is when the left ventricle relaxes and fills with blood. The researchers showed that ventricle relaxation among steroid users, as demonstrated by the left ventricle’s ratio of early-to-late blood filling, was reduced by almost half (0.93 compared with 1.80 among non-users). The left ventricle’s structure was similar in both steroid-users and non-users.

Click thru for some more details. I'm already scared to use anabolic steroids. So this article doesn't change my mind. If you are thinking about using then think again. Your heart is a handy thing to have working correctly.

What's needed: studies comparing long term effects of assorted drugs for enhancing athletic performance. Do any drugs exist that boost athletic performance while not creating long term health problems?

In the longer run I expect stem cell and gene therapies to provide not just safe athletic enhancement but life extending athletic enhancement. Then I expect to see a split between sports that feature only "wild type" natural humans and sports that allow enhanced athletes to perform. In the long run the "wild type" sports will go into decline because humans will be enhanced with gene therapy and other techniques started from conception. Biologically natural humans will become the exception and enhancement will become widely accepted and fully legitimized.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 27 10:28 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2007 July 25 Wednesday
Dog Muscle Mutation Useful For Humans?

If this mutation gets inserted into some human muscle cells would it make the human recipients more muscular?

Double muscling is a trait previously described in several mammalian species including cattle and sheep and is caused by mutations in the myostatin (MSTN) gene (previously referred to as GDF8). Here we describe a new mutation in MSTN found in the whippet dog breed that results in a double-muscled phenotype known as the “bully” whippet. Individuals with this phenotype carry two copies of a two-base-pair deletion in the third exon of MSTN leading to a premature stop codon at amino acid 313. Individuals carrying only one copy of the mutation are, on average, more muscular than wild-type individuals (p = 7.43 × 10−6; Kruskal-Wallis Test) and are significantly faster than individuals carrying the wild-type genotype in competitive racing events (Kendall's nonparametric measure, τ = 0.3619; p ≈ 0.00028). These results highlight the utility of performance-enhancing polymorphisms, marking the first time a mutation in MSTN has been quantitatively linked to increased athletic performance.

What I thought as I read about this dog muscle gene deletion mutation: Future genetic engineers looking to enhance human function will search through animal genetic variations and choose ones that provide desired enhancements. Take this myostatin mutation for example. Humans also have myostatin genes. A similar mutation introduced into human myostatin might yield the same enhancement to human musculature.

Other species of mammals are adapted to a large variety of conditions and ecological niches. They have many of the same genes but in different variations. We are going to find variations such as the one above that does something special for other species. These variations and their functional purposes are going to serve as a grab bag of pre-tested genetic variations that can allow humans to endow themselves with a large variety of special abilities that humans now lack.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 25 11:55 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2007 March 31 Saturday
Athletic Repair With Umbilical Cells In Few Years?

A New York Times report suggests that stem cell therapies for athletic injury repairs might come in a single digit number of years.Athletes may lead the way in spurring the development of stem cell therapies.

The latest curative leap to heal professional athletes and weekend warriors alike may sound like science fiction, but it could transform sports medicine. Some doctors and researchers say that in a few years the use of primitive stem cells from infants’ umbilical cord blood could grow new knee ligaments or elbow tendons creating a therapy that becomes the vanguard of sports injury repair.


“It’s not a pie in the sky notion,” said Dr. Scott Rodeo, an orthopedist and award-winning research scientist at Manhattan’s Hospital for Special Surgery. “Maybe it’s not going to happen next year, but a three-to-five-year horizon is not unreasonable.”

Professional athletes are not risk averse. The doping in baseball and by athletes in other sports demonstrates the huge health risks they'll run in order to win. Plus, they have big dollars to spend. Imagine that Michael Jordan could have gotten his knees fixed with stem cell therapies. He could have made millions more by playing more seasons. If athletes can find ways to take risks with stem cell therapies then stem cell therapies will advance more rapidly.

I am also expecting plastic surgeons to embrace a lot of experimental stem cell therapies ahead of the mainstream medical community that treats diseases. The plastic surgeons mostly market to people who pay out of their own pockets. This gives them more flexibility. Plus, a lot of people are willing to experiment in order to look better. Stem cells extracted from their stomach fat? Sign 'em up. Stem cells stimulated to make collagen? Sure, why not? Anything for bigger cheeks, lips, and breasts.

Once stem cell therapies for injury repair start happening then expect to see the therapies take off for rejuvenation. A bad joint from hard football tackles needs some of the same kinds of repairs as a bad joint from decades of wear and tear in the bodies of the elderly. This will make the market revenues from stem cell therapies orders of magnitude larger.

Once a substantial market develops then part of the research to further improve treatments will get funded from cash flow. All the equipment used to grow and condition the stem cells to shape them into useful therapies will come from suppliers whose sales will generate profits that will fund better successive generations of improved equipment.

By Randall Parker    2007 March 31 03:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2006 November 16 Thursday
Dartmouth Scientists Genetically Engineer Muscular Mice

Dartmouth researchers have found yet another way to make mice have big muscles without exercise.

A team of researchers, led by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College, have identified and tested a gene that dramatically alters both muscle metabolism and performance. The researchers say that this finding could someday lead to treatment for muscle diseases, including helping the elderly who suffer from muscle deterioration and improving muscle performance in endurance athletes.

The ban on so-called "gene doping" or gene therapy by many athletic associations slows the rate of progress for the development of gene therapies that increase musculature. Eventually the athletic associations are going to split over this issue. New athletic associations will form that allow genetic engineering. Those associations and companies will put on competitions between the genetically enhanced that eclipse the competitions between natural humans.

Want big muscles without all the hard work? Genetic engineering of an enzyme is the ticket.

The researchers report that the enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (or AMPK) is directly involved in optimizing muscle activity. The team bred a mouse that genetically expressed AMPK in an activated state. Like a trained athlete, this mouse enjoyed increased capacity to exercise, manifested by its ability to run three times longer than a normal mouse before exhaustion. One particularly striking feature of the finding was the accumulation of muscle glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrates, a condition that many athletes seek by "carbo-loading" before an event or game. The study appears in the Nov. 14 online issue of the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism.

"Our genetically altered mouse appears to have already been an exercise program," says Lee Witters, the Eugene W. Leonard 1921 Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry at Dartmouth Medical School and professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College. "In other words, without a prior exercise regimen, the mouse developed many of the muscle features that would only be observed after a period of exercise training."

Even if you were genetically engineered to grow big muscles naturally there might still be health benefits to exercise such as development of better arteries and veins. But then that just calls out for gene therapy the circulatory system to compensate for the lack of exercise there too.

The ability to stimulate muscle growth would bring great benefits to elderly people with shrivelled muscles. Okay scientists, figure this out before we get much older.

Witters, whose lab led the study, explains that this finding has implication for anyone with a muscle disease and especially for the growing proportion of the population that is aging. Deteriorating muscles often make the elderly much more prone to fall, leading to hip and other fractures. According to Witters, there is tremendous interest in the geriatric field to find ways to improve muscle performance.

Of course athletes will use gene therapy to enhance muscle strength as soon as it becomes possible.

"We now wonder if it's possible to achieve elements of muscular fitness without having to exercise, which in turn, raises many questions about possible modes of exercise performance enhancement, including the development of drugs that could do the same thing as we have done genetically," he says. "This also might raise to some the specter of 'gene doping,' something seriously being talked about in the future of high-performance athletes."

Gene doping will take off long before it becomes safe to use. Old folks will benefit from the willingness of athletes to take risks with new biotechnologies. The athletes will serve as very willing guinea pigs.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 16 05:51 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
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