Parent Confessions: I Didn’t Understand the Seriousness of my Son’s Steroid Use

As published in Little League Baseball’s newsletter:

We are a baseball family. I played Little League Baseball® and so did both of my boys. Our oldest son went on the play collegiate baseball and was scouted by several Major League teams, and was Taylor’s idol. Like his older brother, Taylor played Little League and then played on his high school team.  He was a very talented player, and had dreams of pitching in college and one day playing in the pros.

Taylor was very competitive at everything he did – in school and in his social life. During high school, he was never satisfied with just being in the starting lineup, he wanted to be the number one pitcher on his squad. One of his coaches told him that he needed to “get bigger” to improve his chances of becoming the ace. Taylor was already over six feet tall and weighed 175 pounds at 16 years old, he really didn’t need to “get bigger”. With those instructions, he began using dietary supplements and working out to help him put on more weight.

What we didn’t know was that half of the boys on Taylor’s high school team were actively using anabolic steroids to help them get bigger. When Taylor stepped into his high school dugout, he found another “tool” that he could use to help him achieve his objective. He was introduced to a dealer while working out at our local gym and began injecting two different types of anabolic steroids. Over the next 90 days, he put on 30 pounds of lean muscle. With the changes in his body, he began to throw much harder. He moved into a new, fast-paced social group.  He couldn’t walk in front of a mirror without flexing his guns.

In addition to the physical changes, his moods began to swing dramatically. We experienced his “roid rage” first hand. He began to curse at his mom and me when we crossed him in even minor ways. We knew that something was wrong, so we took him to our family physician who didn’t recognize the problem. We visited with a dermatologist to treat the severe acne that had developed on Taylor’s back (a textbook side effect of steroids), and later to a psychiatrist who got him to admit what he’d been doing and instructed Taylor to quit “cold turkey.” We didn’t know any better.

About six weeks later, Taylor committed suicide, and our lives fell apart. We lost our son – a young man with a passion for baseball and a zest for life.

Of course, we knew of the widespread use of steroids by professional athletes. But, we had no idea how to help our son and we were blindsided when we learned how many young people are using these and other appearance and performance enhancing substances. Nationally, about one out of sixteen high school students admit to using anabolic steroids. We also didn’t know that about 25 percent of dietary supplements are spiked with anabolic steroids. And that, tragically, suicide is one of the devastating results of steroid withdrawal.

Like most parents reading this story, we didn’t want to even let the thought cross our minds that our son might be participating in this behavior – “Taylor would never do that, we thought”.

In our grief, we poured ourselves into learning more about steroid and appearance and performance enhancing substances. If only we had educated ourselves about how to recognize the signs of steroid use, we could have recognized the fact that Taylor was using and just might have been able to take steps to prevent the tragedy that unfolded in our family.

The next year, 2004, we founded the Taylor Hooton Foundation to provide parents, coaches, and other adult influencers with the knowledge and tools to become educated about the dangers of these powerful drugs.  For more information, please visit

By Don Hooton, President and Founder of the Taylor Hooton Foundation


Elvis Andrus (Rangers) promotes healthy lifestyle to youth

ARLINGTON — The 50 or so prep baseball players who showed up at Globe Life Park on Saturday morning got a crash course in doing things the right way as part of the National PLAY Campaign to promote the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.

The main message they got from the likes of Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, head trainer Kevin Harmon and Don Hooton, whose son Taylor committed suicide after using anabolic steroids, was there are no shortcuts to success in baseball.

It’s a message they believe got through to the players and coaches who came from all over North Texas.

“It’s really important,” Andrus said. “They’re at an age right now where they need good advice. They need a good way to do it. They’re at a critical age for them as athletes. When I was that age, if I had good advice — which I did — it makes the whole thing different.”

The boys heard from Andrus, Harmon, Hooton and others from the visiting bullpen at Globe Life Park before heading to different stations. They ran drills in the outfield, visited the weight room and heard about nutrition. The highlight for them was getting to hit in the batting cages, where Andrus worked with the players as they hit off a tee and offered tips.

It was an eye-opening day for many players, who had never been to Globe Life Park or met a Major Leaguer.

“I like seeing how [the Rangers] treat their players, how the trainers take care of them, how we take care of our players and seeing the differences,” said Sam Hughes, a junior catcher from Quinlan High School. “I like seeing how the professionals do it, so I can start working my way up to it. It’s scary to hear about PEDs. Kids my age are doing it, and there’s no way you’re supposed to be doing that.”

Hughes is just the kind of player the program, which is in its 15th year, is trying to reach. Hooton said the average age for boys to start experimenting with PEDs is 15. Being able to talk to the players, along with some of their coaches and parents, was a huge opportunity.

It also helps to have someone like Andrus on board. Andrus is on the All Me League advisory board for the Taylor Hooton Foundation. Andrus talked to the athletes about how, when he was 16, he saw other players taking shortcuts to try to get ahead. That just made him work harder.

Andrus promotes healthy lifestyle to youth

The impact of Saturday’s event will hopefully be felt for years to come.

“[Having role models like] Elvis and the other players across the league is extremely important,” Hooton said. “Combined with getting to be in a Major League ballpark and [having] MLB and the management staff … behind it, hopefully every one of these boys is going to remember their day on the field and remember the message they heard today. I think it all works together. We’ll never know, but you hope that with these guys at their age, we can get them to think twice. For many of these kids, this will be the only time they get a message about the importance of proper diet, proper exercise and to not take shortcuts.”

Another Young Man Dies Too Young After Using Anabolic Steroids

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Brandon Emmett Emanuel Char-Lee

Grieving mother brings message to Central Valley bodybuilders

Men and Women were showing off the results of their hard work and discipline at the Fresno classic bodybuilding competition Saturday April 28th.

23-year-old Brandon Char-Lee had been training for the competition as well.

But, he didn’t have the chance to compete he passed away on April 24th

His mother, Carolyn Char Lunger, says his autopsy cited a history of steroid abuse. she traveled from the bay area to see the competitors and share his story, and hopes it will help save lives.

“You only have one body, one life, this means a lot for that split second on stage. I was waiting for a phone call saying I’m getting married, I’m having children. we’re not gonna get that phone call ever. He’s gone. for what? to have these big muscles to show. there’s other ways to do this.”

Carolyn hopes that by sharing her story, there can be increased scrutiny on steroid use, there will be a bigger effort to track those who are getting others hooked.

THF Board Member, Mark Thompson, on Home Security and Pest Control

Providing peace of mind is a full-time job. Mark Thompson, the founder of Smith Thompson Security, gladly accepts this responsibility. In a time when tragedies seem to take place on a daily basis, Thompson emphasizes the value of safety and security.

Mark Thompson started Smith Thompson Security in 1978. Smith Thompson Security is often regarded as a company born out of tragedy.

“My father was killed by a drunk driver,” Thompson says. “Our hometown’s newspaper did a story on our family and said we’d be out of town for the funeral. When we got back from the funeral, we discovered that our house had been robbed.”

The look on his mother’s face upon discovery of the horrific incident was enough to motivate Thompson to take action.

“I will never forget how much this broke my mother’s heart,” Thompson says. “Our family completely understands how violating such an act can be.”

Since that day, Thompson has been committed to providing security to families at a reasonable price.

“Back then, home security systems were expensive,” Thompson says. “Only the wealthy could afford them. We tried to find ways to make them affordable for everyone.”

Smith Thompson Security customers can create personalized packages to match the needs of their families.

“Everyone’s needs are different,” Thompson says. “You have to make the system adapt to the customer’s to live with them, not make the customer live with the system.”

Like his home security business, his pest control business, Smith Thompson Pest Control, has also proven lucrative. However, Thompson is a firm believer in working for one’s earnings. At the moment, his children are learning the ropes of the family business.

Smith Thompson’s official Pest Control truck (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

“Everybody in my family starts off like I did,” Thompson says. “I was crawling around in attics running wiring. My son, Jordan, is in the pest control business, and he’s learning it from the ground up.”

Thompson’s years of hard work and dedication have proven to be fruitful. Smith Thompson Security is currently the official home security system of the Dallas Mavericks.

“On our 30th anniversary, my wife and I came up with this crazy idea to visit all 30 NBA arenas,” Thompson says. “It started off as a joke, then it became a dare, then we actually did it. And then, the following year, we became sponsors after receiving a lot of media attention. We’ve been sponsors ever since.”

Having been heavily involved with the Dallas Mavericks for nearly eight years, Thompson won MFFL award at the final Mavs game of the 2017-2018 season.

Rick Carlisle, Lynda Thompson, and Mark Thompson at recent Mavs luncheon. (Photo credit: Tammany Stern)

Despite his staple status in the DFW community, Thompson has remained humble, hardworking, and dedicated to providing quality service to families and homeowners. Since Smith Thompson’s early beginnings, Thompson has never increased his home monitoring rate from $16.95 per month.

Smith Thompson Security currently serves families and homeowners in over 150 cities and towns in Texas. To get set up with affordable home security, call 1-888-888-1695, or visit

Vikings WR Cayleb Jones suspended 4 games for violating NFL PED policy

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The NFL has suspended Vikings wide receiver Cayleb Jones the first four games of the 2018 season for a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing substances policy.

Jones will be able to practice during the offseason and play in all preseason games, but will serve the four-game suspension without pay.

 The 25-year-old wide receiver is the older brother of Bills receiver Zay Jones and son of longtime NFL linebacker Robert Jones. He has been on the Vikings practice squad the past two seasons. He has yet to appear in a regular-season NFL game and is listed as seventh or eighth on the Vikings’ WR depth chart.

Jones, who played collegiately at Texas and Arizona, signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent in 2016 before joining the Vikings.

What’s the harm in taking SARMs?

“SARMs” have emerged as a new class of appearance- and performance-enhancing substances. Before you consider using one, learn the facts here.

What are SARMs?

SARMs—short for “selective androgen receptor modulators”—are synthetic drugs designed to have effects similar to those of testosterone. SARMs are still in the research and testing stages for various medical conditions but have not been approved yet for any other use. Despite that, SARMs are readily available online and often marketed to bodybuilders as “legal steroids” or “steroid alternatives” or for “research only.”

Are SARMs safe or legal?

Although SARMs sometimes are sold in products marketed as dietary supplements, FDA has stated they are not dietary supplements and are unapproved by FDA for human use. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) prohibit SARMS for use in sport.

USU/CHAMP logo. Operation Supplement Safety logo. SARMs (Selective androgen receptor modulators) are unapproved drugs. They're also: illegally marketed and sold as dietary supplements, banned in all professional and college sports, unapproved by FDA for human use, known to adversely affect the liver and cholesterol levels. Is it worth the risk to your performance and readiness?

If you have purchased or considered using a dietary supplement product labeled as containing a SARM  (that is, with one or more SARMs on its Supplement Facts panel) or marketed for bodybuilding, think again! We strongly advise not using such products, as they pose significant health and readiness risks. Ostarine and similar SARMs also might cause positive results if you are tested for steroids. Importantly, use of SARMs might interfere with the natural release of your own testosterone.

What ingredients should you look out for?

Some of the ingredient names to watch out for on dietary supplement product labels and websites include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Andarine (S4)
  • Enobosarm (Ostarine, MK-2866)
  • Ligandrol (LGD-4033)
  • RAD140 (Testolone)
  • S-22

Watch out too for other experimental drugs—such as Cardarine/GW-501516, Ibutamoren/MK-677, and YK11—that sometimes are marketed as SARMs; they aren’t, but they also are illegal for any use other than research.

For a more complete list of names, please see “Dietary Supplements and Other Commercial Products Containing SARMs.”

SARMs Control Act Would Strengthen DEA’s Power to Enforce Against SARMs in Dietary Supplements

New legislation introduced yesterday in the U.S. Senate would give the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) increased power to enforce against selective androgen receptor modulators, or SARMs. SARMs are synthetic drugs designed to mimic the effects of testosterone and are unapproved for use in dietary supplements but are sometimes found in products such as sports supplements targeting bodybuilders. The SARMs Control Act of 2018 introduced yesterday by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) would add SARMs to the DEA’s list of Schedule III drugs and ensure that SARMs are regulated similarly to anabolic steroids.

 FDA has not approved SARMs for use by humans and recently ramped up efforts to enforce against products marketed as dietary supplements illegally containing SARMs. Last October, the agency announced it had sent warning letters to three companies marketing dietary supplements containing SARMs. In a press statement, Donald D. Ashley, JD, director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said, “Bodybuilding products that contain selective androgen receptor modulators, or SARMs, have not been approved by the FDA and are associated with serious safety concerns, including potential to increase the risk of heart attack or stroke and life-threatening reactions like liver damage. We will continue to take action against companies marketing these products to protect the public health.”

The bipartisan SARMs Control Act of 2018 extends the power the DEA has under the 2014 Designer Anabolic Steroids Control Act, to include authority over SARMs. In addition to adding SARMs to the list of Schedule III drugs, the bill prohibits the illegal import, export, manufacture, and distribution of SARMs.

“SARMs are synthetic drugs that have negative effects similar to those of anabolic steroids,” said Senator Hatch in a press statement. “Even though SARMS are not approved by the FDA for human use and pose the same safety risks as anabolic steroids, they have proliferated under a regime in which they are not subject to the same controls. The SARMs Control Act closes this loophole to ensure that the DEA has the authority it needs to prevent abuse and diversion of these dangerous substances.”

The bill received wide support from leaders of the dietary supplement industry, who have vocally advocated the need to ban SARMs from supplements. Last fall, industry associations joined the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to warn consumers about SARMs in supplements. Following the introduction of the new SARMs Control Act, supplement industry associations, plus Travis Tygart, president and CEO, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, released a joint statement showing support. Supplement industry leaders included Michael McGuffin, president, American Herbal Products Association (AHPA; Silver Spring MD); Scott Melville, president and CEO, Consumer Healthcare Products Association (Washington, DC); Steve Mister, president and CEO, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC); and Loren Israelsen, president, United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA; Washington, DC). The statement reads: “Each of our organizations has consistently supported efforts to enact and enforce laws to protect consumers, eliminate bad actors marketing illegal substances masquerading as legal products, and prosecute criminals who manufacture and sell them. Your bill will help move toward this goal. The SARMs Control Act is a bold step, adding teeth to prevention and enforcement efforts in the battle against illegal substances being marketed as legitimate products. The dietary supplement industry and USADA stands ready to work with you and all of Congress to deliver a strong bill to the President.”



As social media continues to play a central role in the lives of adolescent girls and young women, its influence on body image and the perception of beauty continues to grow. Social media not only exposes young girls to certain beauty standards and cultural ideals of womanhood, but emerging research shows it may contribute to the development of eating disorders and body dysmorphia, in females as well as males.

As many as 20 million American women and 10 million American men will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, and a large proportion of those affected are adolescents and teens. More than half of teenage girls and approximately 1/3 of teenage boys engage in eating disorder behaviors such as crash dieting, taking diet pills or laxatives, and self-induced vomiting.1

Social media may be a significant contributor to such behaviors. An eating disorder treatment center in Chicago revealed that 30–50% of its teen patients used social media as a means of supporting their eating disorders.2 A 2011 study conducted by the University of Haifa revealed that the more time teenage girls spent on social media websites like Facebook, the greater their risk was of developing eating disorders and negative body images. Another study conducted by Florida State University in 2014 also reported a correlation between Facebook use and disordered eating behaviors.3


Girl crying in front of scale


Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are both characterized by a distorted body image and abnormal eating behaviors, but they are different disorders. Read More

Media images have long played a role in the development of eating disorders. Research studies conducted as far back as the 1980s and 1990s demonstrated that the decreasing weight of fashion models, actresses, and Miss America contestants between the 1950s and 1990s contributed to an increased discrepancy between the ideal female weight and the size and proportions of the average American woman at the time.1,4

During these decades, both the beauty and diet industries flooded women’s magazines, advertisements, and other forms of media with glorified thinness ideals and dramatically emphasized their importance, making many women feel a sense of dissatisfaction with their bodies. Surveys conducted in the early 1990s revealed that the number-one wish of young girls ages 11 to 17 was that they could lose weight and keep it off. Similarly, when middle-aged women were asked what they would most like to change about their lives, more than 50% responded with “their weight” as the answer.4

Despite growing knowledge and awareness of this phenomenon, the role of media in body dissatisfaction, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders has not changed over the years. On the contrary, social media may have a more negative impact than other forms of media as it plays a larger role in the daily lives of youth. Young girls not only have to deal with the objectification of famous women’s bodies in the media, but their own bodies, as well as those of their peers, are often subject to objectification through the posting of what’s come to be known as “selfies,” a photograph taken of oneself and posted on social media.

Not only has the nature of media consumption changed, but the audience has as well. Where youth were once just exposed to their surrounding peers, they can now readily access the opinions, behaviors, and ideals of thousands of people instantly. There are many online pages, groups, and hashtags that promote disordered eating.

As part of the so-called pro-anorexia (or pro-ana) or pro-bulimia (pro-mia) movement, these websites support those with eating disorders and encourage people to post photos of what they call progress. The thinspirationthinspo, and thinspogram hashtags are used often by pro-ana and pro-mia communities to post photos of thin celebrities idolized as an inspiration for such eating disorders. These groups provide tips on becoming thin, hiding eating disorder behaviors, suppressing hunger, and keeping stomach acid from harming the teeth. In past years, many thinspiration websites were taken down as a means of prevention, but social media has made this information increasingly difficult to monitor and control.2,3

Social media can be incredibly dangerous for young people with low self-esteem and distorted body image, since they often find a sense of community and acceptance among pro-ana and pro-mia online groups that support and encourage their disordered eating. Where others may be expressing concern about their behaviors and weight loss, online pro-ana and pro-mia communities offer support and validation. The likes, thumbs-ups, and comments on their photos can provide reinforcement to continue losing weight despite health problems or concerns. Some users will even use their likes as inspiration for their behavior. For example, 1 like may equal 2 hours of fasting.2,3

Mental Health America points out that while social media does not directly cause body dysmorphic disorder, it can serve as a trigger for those with certain genetic or psychological predispositions, and may worsen symptoms in those already suffering from the disorder.5 Social media can increase a person’s exposure to body shaming as well as promote body obsessions, comparisons, and competition, all of which can contribute to disordered eating.3,4


Body positive campaigns showing diversity in woman sizeJust as social media can fuel eating disorders for many people, it can also help others find strength to seek and follow up with treatment. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) works with various social media platforms to ban certain hashtags, remove unhealthy and dangerous feeds, and provide a link to their website along with an advisory warning when certain hashtags or links are clicked.

NEDA has also made significant efforts to increase its social media presence, in 2011 launching Proud2BMe, a website that encourages adolescents and teens to have a healthy body image and relationship with food. There are also many pro-recovery hashtags that people in recovery from eating disorders can use to share with the recovery community, including:3

  • #prorecovery
  • #foodisfuel
  • #edrecovery
  • #edsoldier

Many people are beginning to use Instagram as a way to document their recovery and build a community of support and inspiration. Users in recovery post pictures of their weight gain progress and healthy-proportioned meals, along with lengthy descriptions of the various emotions, fears, challenges, and accomplishments of recovery. Those who use Instagram for recovery find comfort in sharing their story with a community, while still maintaining some degree of anonymity, often neglecting to include their last names or contact details. Others use the publicity of Instagram as a means of overcoming the immense shame and secrecy that often accompanies eating disorders.6

Just as there are individual accounts of recovery on Instagram and other social media platforms, there are social media groups and pages that promote eating disorder awareness, advocacy, recovery, and prevention. For example, one community, Beating Eating Disorders, has more than 28,000 likes on its Facebook page, and another, Eating Disorder Hope, has more than 16,000 followers on Twitter.

Social Media and Body Image

Energy drinks the cause of many sudden cardiac deaths in young people


To many adolescents and young adults, energy drinks have become essential for getting through the day. But they carry a serious risk of sudden death, a new study finds.

An international research team, led by Dr. Fabian Sanchis-Gomar of Madrid, Spain, has concluded that energy drinks are the cause of many sudden cardiac deaths in young, healthy individuals.

The main concern is that these beverages can easily aggravate underlying heart issues. Because of their high amounts of caffeine and sugar, dangerous arrhythmias can easily develop in the hearts of young people who drink them.

Many people already balk at the high amounts of labeled caffeine on these drinks. The problem is that there are many additional sources of caffeine that are “masked” by the labeling.

 “Masked” caffeine

Ingredients such as guarana, ginseng, and taurine have caffeine concentrations that are equal to, or higher than, caffeine found in coffee. Ingesting high doses of any of these substances can be very dangerous.

Roughly 31% of adolescents from ages 12 to 19 consume energy drinks on a regular basis. An even higher number of people use alternatives to these beverages, such as gums or inhalers. The high amounts of caffeine in all of these products is causing serious harm, the study found. Of the 5,448 caffeine overdoses reported in the United States in 2007, 46% of them occurred in people under the age of 19. The question is, how can we halt this trend of overconsumption by young people?

Dr. Sanchis-Gomar and his team came up with several guidelines to keep young people from over-indulging. They caution that:

  • One can (250 mL) of an energy drink per day is safe for most healthy adolescents.
  • Energy drink consumption before or during sports practice should be avoided.
  • Adolescents with clinically relevant underlying medical conditions should consult cardiologists before drinking energy drinks.
  • Excessive energy drink consumption together with alcohol or other drugs, or both, may lead to adverse effects, including death.

In the study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, Dr. Sanchis-Gomar goes on to say alerting physicians to the dangers of energy drinks is extremely important.

“It is important for physicians to understand the lack of regulation in caffeine content and other ingredients of these high-energy beverages,” he said. Knowledge and awareness are key to providing safety for young people. 

The new frontier of doping will modify athletes’ DNA

(CNN)In 2008, an Olympic year, Lee Sweeney’s phone was ringing nonstop.

For a busy physiologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, that may be expected, but the reason behind the calls wasn’t exactly run-of-the-mill.
The people on the other end of the line were athletes in search of a particular kind of fix: They wanted him to dope them — via their genes.
 In the late 1990s, Sweeney made headlines because of his research on “Schwarzenegger mice,” which were up to 30% stronger than their average counterparts. Sweeney had been able to isolate the gene responsible for activating a protein — IGF-1 — that controls muscle growth and repair.
The main focus of his experiments was on how to limit the deterioration of muscles with age, but the results also appealed to athletes in search of a performance boost.
Word got out, however, that he was not interested.
Ahead of this year’s Commonwealth Games, which started April 4, Sweeney’s was not such a hot number for athletes in search of an unfair advantage — possibly because he is now an adviser for the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“At the beginning, when we first started publishing on this, we did get contacted by high-level athletes,” said Sweeney, who’s also director of the University of Florida’s Myology Institute. “These days, it’s mostly body builders and people desperate to increase their performance or abilities.”
Back then, gene therapy — defined as the technique of using and manipulating genes in order to treat or prevent diseases — wasn’t as established as it is today and wasn’t recognised as enough of a threat to be listed as a banned practice in sport. But it soon became known that gene therapies could one day be used for much more than disease.
Responding promptly to the possibility, in 2002, the anti-doping agency established “gene and cell-doping panels” of expert scientists to discuss how best to head off the problem.
In 2003, the organization banned “gene doping,” which it defined as the “nontherapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or modulation of gene expression, having the capacity to enhance performance.”
This new frontier of doping presented a simple and dark idea: What if there was a way for dopers to never be caught?
Now, almost 20 years later, the technology is has finally been used to treat patients with rare diseases — such as severe combined immunodeficiency, chronic granulomatous disorder, hemophilia, blindness, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases — by transferring missing genes into skeletal muscles, Sweeney said. “So because of that, it is now at a point where potentially it could be used by athletes.
“It could be done today in athletes if some company and government would put the resources (in) to make it happen,” he said.

Getting inside your genes

In the case of the “Schwarzenegger mice,” Sweeney used the classic method of gene therapy, in which he modified the animals’ DNA using a virus to deliver and insert the required gene that would make the mice stronger.
Genes are delivered into an organism using a “vector,” the most common being viruses, like that used by Sweeney, which have been modified to be safe and no longer cause disease. The vectors carry the desired gene into targeted cells and, there, unload the genetic material, which in turn instructs the organism to produce the protein the gene encodes.
One example of a protein well-known to athletes is erythropoietin, commonly known as EPO, which regulates the production of red blood cells in the body, increasing hemoglobin and oxygen delivery to tissues.
With the injection of external EPO, elite athletes — often cyclists — have been enhancing performance for years, but authorities have caught on. Anti-doping controls can now detect external EPO efficiently through blood and urine tests.

A doping urine test kit is seen on February 25, 2015 in Chatenay, France.

If extra EPO is being produced organically by a cell’s machinery, however, it is almost impossible to detect as a banned substance.
But the technology is not quite at that level yet.
“Making the viruses that are involved in doing the gene transfer is still difficult,” Sweeney said, highlighting that the science is still complicated and not something athletes could readily do at home.
Another way to dope an athlete’s genes is through CRISPR, or CRISPR-Cas9, a technique that allows geneticists to edit specific parts of a person’s genome by removing or altering sections of DNA — also known as gene editing.
The technique is rapidly developing, leading to a World Anti-Doping Agency announcement in October that it was expanding its “gene-doping” ban to “gene editing agents designed to alter genome sequences and/or the transcriptional or epigenetic regulation of gene expression.”
The ban went into effect in January.
“There’s a couple of ways you can use CRISPR-Cas9,” Sweeney said. “One is to take cells from a person, modify those cells and put them back into the person, and that is probably the safest way to use it.
“The other way to use it, which is to modify your existent DNA in the body, is potentially very unsafe.”

False kit of genetics editing with Crispr Cas-9 technology.

Sweeney pointed out that scientists do not know what unintended consequences could come from changing a specific gene in an individual, meaning the technology is not even ready for trials in patients with lethal diseases.
In the case of gene-doping through gene therapies, using vectors for delivery, it’s relatively easy to look for an extra copy of a gene and confirm that an athlete has been doped when you have access to a biological sample, such as blood, said Olivier Rabin, senior executive director of sciences and international partnerships at the anti-doping agency.
In particular, Rabin said, the agency looks at white-blood cells and has developed a methodology that can be applied to search for different genes. Further detail was not provided, as it is kept confidential in order to catch athletes, he added.
“Gene editing is a little more complex than gene therapy,” Rabin added. The anti-doping agency is working on strategies to reveal the possibility of people editing their genes for performance enhancement, he said.
Rabin highlighted that most of the agency’s efforts focus on white blood cells as “pretty good markers of gene manipulation” because some evidence of manipulation will usually end up in the blood.
Asked what it is doing to monitor and test athletes for gene doping, the International Olympic Committee did not comment directly but said, “We have nothing to add to the section on gene doping in WADA’s prohibited list.”
The question now is whether the first few cases have, in fact, happened without our knowledge.

Modern occurrence

“I never heard anything about it except for one time, and it was around five years ago,” said Sebastian Weber, coach of four-time Union Cycliste Internationale world champion (time trialling) Tony Martin. “There was some buzz around a substance called AICAR,” or 5-Aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide.
AICAR is a performance-enhancing drug that the French Anti-Doping Agency suspected was used in the 2009 Tour de France; it stimulates mitochondria, the part in the muscles responsible for aerobic energy production.
In cycling, for gene doping to be effective, techniques should target both EPO levels and red blood cell production to have a higher oxygen delivery to the muscles, Weber says — but they would also need to increase the mass and number of mitochondria in order to actually produce energy from that oxygen.
“Just because you have more oxygen, it doesn’t necessary mean you also have the capacity to produce energy out of it,” Weber said.
As AICAR was a drug, it wasn’t gene doping, but it led people to wonder about what was next, he says, after this “first step” toward stimulating the body’s mitochondria. “That was the only time I heard people talking about the possibility of gene-doping.”

Tailoring to your genes

There are other ways genetics — and a deep knowledge of them — could help athletes improve their performance, by understanding their physiology.
For example, project GENESIS — focused on how applied genomics in elite sports can improve performance — and its offshoot, the RugbyGene Project, are trying to identify which genetic characteristics help athletes succeed.
“We recognize it is not only genetic,” said Dr. Alun Williams, an exercise geneticist at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK who works on both projects. “Training, diet and other lifestyle habits are massive factors. But along with that, the evidence is that it’s impossible to have success in sports without some genetic [factors] in your favor.”
The researchers of these projects are hoping to identify which genes help — or hinder — athletes in their specific disciplines, to develop their skills in a more tailored way. For example, if an athlete has shown to have a higher genetic vulnerability to tendon injuries, scientists and coaches could reduce certain aspects of their training load over the course of the season, give longer rest periods, reduce the number of matches played in a season, or provide specific exercises and pre-habilitation workouts.
But Williams points out that the field is still at an early stage. “This picture where certain genes (or even two or three genes) are related to a particular characteristic, like the tendon injury, is still a small bit of a bigger picture,” he said. “So it’s very important that this information that is available is put into context.”

A different point of view

Some experts argue that we’re looking at it all wrong and that athletes will always use the most modern technology to seek out an advantage — illegal or not.
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“Modern sports have been principally valued on the basis of record-breaking and being able to witness extraordinary performances,” said bioethicist Andy Miah, the University of Salford Chair in Science Communication and Future Media and author of “Genetically Modified Athletes: Biomedical Ethics, Gene Doping and Sport.” “Even if it’s not a world record, it’s about trying to see something special in what humans can do, and often, that is about transcending boundaries.”

We give athletes all sort of technology to do that, added Miah, who readily claims to “disagree with anti-doping.”
Instead of the current scenario, in which anti-doping keeps trying to catch up with doping, Miah suggests a safer form of performance enhancement.
“If we can have a system where enhancement was actually medically supervised, then I think that is a much more safe and healthy.