(FILE PIX) Imagine a team full of netball players eight feet tall and cyclists with the ability to carry more oxygen-rich red blood cells than ever before - this could be the future of sports if gene doping becomes easily accessible. NSTP PIX.

KUALA LUMPUR: Imagine a team full of netball players eight feet tall and cyclists with the ability to carry more oxygen-rich red blood cells than ever before - this could be the future of sports if gene doping becomes easily accessible.

Gene doping is an offshoot of gene therapy, where damaged or missing genes are replaced for therapeutic purposes.

But instead of healing illnesses and birth defects, gene doping involves the insertion of specific genes in a healthy individual to improve their sporting abilities.

The potential for cheating is endless, athletes can be made to be taller, physically stronger, possess incredible endurance with superior reflexes.

The idea has been around for a while now but it is now closer than ever to becoming accessible with a number of gene therapy specialists reported to have received numerous requests to enhance athletes performances.

In fact it could already be in use by athletes now, though limited to those with strong financial backing due to its cutting edge status.

Nobody knows because there are no reliable methods to test for gene doping at the moment.

National Anti-Doping Agency of Malaysia (Adamas) deputy director Nishel Kumar admits that the use of anabolic steroids, erythropoietin (EPO) and blood doping are now considered old hat in the sporting world.

"In the past (1990's), those who blood doped could get away with it because only their urine samples were tested," said Nishel.

"But now their blood is tested and biological passports have also been enforced.

"There is, however, no way to test for gene doping at the moment.

"Athletes are always looking for an advantage and are always ahead (in regards to doping methods).

"We could very well see today's athletes being caught for gene doping 10 years from now (when testing is more advanced)."

Kuala Lumpur 2017 medical and anti-doping committee head Datuk Dr S. S. Cheema said the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will have to work hard to find a way to overcome gene doping.

"This (gene doping) is going to be a big problem in the long run as it is not easy to prove," said Dr Cheema.

"When normal doping methods came out in the past so many athletes beat the system. This is going to be even worse and will be a big headache to deal with.

"I have not heard of it happening in Asia so far but it could already be.

"I believe it will happen and how WADA is going to deal with it is a big question.

"Imagine a team full of netball players eight feet tall, how are you going to compete with that?"

WADA recognises the seriousness of gene doping and considers it to be a 'threat to the integrity of sport and the health of athletes'.

The world body has placed gene doping on its list of banned practices since 2003 and in 2004 had setup an 'Expert Group' to study advances in the field as well as develop testing methods.