Scientists and sports officials, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, unanimously agreed on Monday that athletes who use genetic transfer technology to enhance performance will be caught in the future.
"It will come, whether it's three years or five years or next week. I think it would be foolish to guess," said Ted Friedmann at the conclusion of the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) second Symposium of Gene Doping at Karolinska Institutet's Nobel Forum.
"But technology is improving very rapidly and I'm confident that sooner or later we'll get there. But it won't be easy," he said.
Gene doping, which is banned by WADA, involves transferring genes directly into human cells to blend into an athlete's own DNA to enhance muscle growth and increase strength or endurance. Nobody knows if gene doping exists.
"Most experts don't think that gene transfer is being used by athletes yet," said Friedmann, chairman of WADA's Gene Doping Panel. "But we know that some athletes may be tempted to use it one day to enhance their performance. That's why WADA takes the issue so seriously."
IOC president Jacques Rogge, who attended the final meetings on Monday, was encouraged by the news.
"We [the IOC] have zero tolerance on doping and therefore we are very, very pleased to see this seminar being organized and we're working very closely with WADA. I believe there is now enough scientific data to start drafting rules. The bottom line is to protect clean athletes from cheaters," Rogge said.
Arne Ljungqvist, an IOC member and chairman of WADA's Health, Medical and Research Committee, said scientists are a little more ahead than he believed before the start of the conference concerning the possibility of detecting gene doping.
"No one said that gene doping will not be detected," Ljungqvist said. "It's a matter of how and when. I think that's an interesting message. We will continue to work hard and to dedicate significant resources to the development of detection methods and policies so that gene doping never becomes a major issue in sports."
It's too early to say what methods would be the best to use.
"We don't know that because there are several approaches being made by research centers out there," Ljungqvist said.
"They're encouraging in declaring that progress is being made. They strongly urge not only WADA, but also other fund-raisers and governments, to allocate money for further research in the field because the detection of gene doping does not only mean that there will be means of detection gene doping. In a broader sense there will be means available to establish the effects in the human body of gene transfer technology," he said.
Some 50 leading research scientists in the field of gene technology and gene therapy from around the world attended the Karolinska Institutet, one of Europe's largest medical universities.
Queen Silvia of Sweden, a sports enthusiast and an official hostess and interpreter at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, made the closing remarks at the conference.
The symposium was organized by WADA, the Swedish Sports Confederation and Karolinska Institutet. Sweden was one of the pioneers in the fight against doping and has been a leading country in the field since the 1980s, both nationally and internationally.