Administration of recombinant human erythropoietin (rHumanEPO) improves sporting performance and hence is frequently subject to abuse by athletes, although rHumanEPO is prohibited by the WADA. Approaches to detect rHumanEPO doping have improved significantly in recent years but remain imperfect. A new transcriptomic-based longitudinal screening approach is being developed that has the potential to improve the analytical performance of current detection methods. In particular, studies are being funded by WADA to identify a ‘molecular signature’ of rHumanEPO doping and preliminary results are promising. In the first systematic study to be conducted, the expression of hundreds of genes were found to be altered by rHumanEPO with numerous gene transcripts being differentially expressed after the first injection and further transcripts profoundly upregulated during and subsequently downregulated up to 4 weeks postadministration of the drug; with the same transcriptomic pattern observed in all participants. The identification of a blood ‘molecular signature’ of rHumanEPO administration is the strongest evidence to date that gene biomarkers have the potential to substantially improve the analytical performance of current antidoping methods such as the Athlete Biological Passport for rHumanEPO detection. Given the early promise of transcriptomics, research using an ‘omics’-based approach involving genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics should be intensified in order to achieve improved detection of rHumanEPO and other doping substances and methods difficult to detect such a recombinant human growth hormone and blood transfusions.
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