Doping warning as scientists develop mice with exceptional strength and endurance

Breakthrough could help those with muscle-wasting diseases, but researchers warn sports bodies to be vigilant

by Simon_MacMichael   November 27, 2011  


In news that will be eagerly digested by some coaches and trainers seeking to ensure that the athletes in their care receive the best possible preparation to give them a competitive edge over their rivals, scientists have succeeded in developing worms and mice endowed with exceptional levels of strength and endurance by managing to suppress a naturally-occurring growth inhibitor.

According to Science Daily, the breakthrough could lead to new treatments for genetic or age-related conditions that lead to degeneration of the muscles, although from a sporting perspective, the potential to usher in a new form of cheating is obvious, and the scientists involved have warned sporting bodies to be on their guard.

The research was conducted through a partnership between the San Diego-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne.

In the course of the research, published in the journal Cell, it was found that muscle strength may be governed by an inhibitor known as NCoR1, the suppression of which could change the way in which certain genes behaved could be altered.

Experiments were carried out on both mice and nematodes, a type of worm of which more than 28,000 separate species have so far been discovered. By suppressing NCoR1, which acts to inhibit muscle growth, they found that mice could run faster and for up to twice the distance of mice that had not had the inhibitor suppressed before tiring.

"There are now ways to develop drugs for people who are unable to exercise due to obesity or other health complications, such as diabetes, immobility and frailty," said Professor Ronald M. Evans of Salk's Gene Expression Lab.

"We can now engineer specific gene networks in muscle to give the benefits of exercise to sedentary mice."

With similar results also observed among nematodes, the study’s authors believe that their findings could have applications among a range of living creatures, including human beings.

Professor Johan Auwerx of EPFL, who was the lead author of the study, outlined some of the potential benefits that could arise from the breakthrough.

"This could be used to combat muscle weakness in the elderly, which leads to falls and contributes to hospitalizations," he explained. "In addition, we think that this could be used as a basis for developing a treatment for genetic muscular dystrophy."

He is all too aware, however, that the discovery could have other applications beyond treating patients suffering from degenerative conditions, issuing the warning that "It will be important for anti-doping authorities to monitor that these treatments are not used in an unauthorised manner."

4 user comments

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Certainly opens up a can of extra-strong worms. Though I wonder how they got them on a treadmill. Thinking

But yes, very interesting stuff. This is why I have always been a bit wary of the campaign to let someone like Oscar Pretorius run in the Olympics.

The argument was that his condition was 'natural' not manufactured but with things like this the line starts to get very blurred - what if someone was given this sort of treatment for a natural condition as a child and developed extra strength and endurance. Would that be the same ?

It's all or nothing IMHO - you can't draw an arbitrary line.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [700 posts]
27th November 2011 - 15:32


So now I'm going to get out climbed by mice too. Makes me sick.

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing..."

Cooks's picture

posted by Cooks [526 posts]
27th November 2011 - 19:55

1 Like

Of course! That explains why I'm not pro cyclist fit - I'm producing extra amounts of NCr01. Especially if it inhibits fat loss as well. Big boned as well. Smile

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1225 posts]
28th November 2011 - 10:47

1 Like

Very interesting....
my athletic performance, basically my strength, fell of a cliff during a year on statins. My creatine kinase levels were constantly those of someone who had just run a marathon (quote from my doc) so I don't take them any more. The side effects of statins are well known in the medical profession but i feel i was not adequately monitored and as a result i lost a lot of muscle mass. I feel pretty peeved.

My strength has never recovered even though I do a couple of weights sessions a week. At my age (55) building muscle is very difficult to do as the natural progression is to continue to loose muscle mass. I've shied away from body-builder supplements, but if this stuff looks good (with no side effects) then I'll be down to the doc to request a course as a way of repairing the damage the statins did!

andybwhite's picture

posted by andybwhite [242 posts]
28th November 2011 - 10:55

1 Like