Jul 23

(Letter) China caught offering “gene doping” to athletes

Written by guest on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 at 9:27 pm
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Go here for full article.  Some notable quotes: “A German television report on the availability of gene doping in China has stunned anti-doping experts shortly before the Beijing Olympics.  … In a documentary by ARD television, a Chinese doctor offers stem-cell therapy to a reporter posing as an American swimming coach.”

But it goes on:

“The documentary broadcast … did not offer evidence that the hospital had provided gene doping to other athletes… The fictitious coach says he is seeking stem-cell treatment for one of his swimmers.”

“Yes. We have no experience with athletes here, but the treatment is safe and we can help you,” the doctor replies.”

So, what ended up happening was a single doctor was caught offering stem cells (which we know has not been proven to work) to an undercover reporter. The doctor even admitted he has never treated athletes before. Perhaps the only news worthy portion of the story was that the doctor offered HGH to the undercover knowing it was illegal, but that was buried in the article. I think everyone can agree this was a poorly conceived story, sensationalized with “gene doping”, broad accusations of “China got caught” all tied in with the Olympics, even though reading the body of the article comprises the title.

Now, contrast the article with this one.

You can safely infer that the treatment this little girl is getting is probably close to what the doctor was suggesting to the undercover. It’s probably the same sales pitch, the stem cells will increase this, strengthen that. But the tone of the article is entirely different, it’s pretty neutral with some hopeful tones here and there.

Both sources are from the U.S., talking about roughly the same procedures, but the tones are 180 from each other. This is just an informal analysis but in the grand scheme of things, these cases help express my opinion that while there are biased reports on China, we should avoid over generalizing “Western” Media because that would not take into account other stories that are balanced.

In addition, the sensationalized story was on MSNBC, but it’s really an AP story. If you are mad about the AP story, you should be angry at the writer/editor of the story, and not “western” media. Always differentiate who really is responsible, unless you want to fall into the same trap the first article did by blaming China for the actions of one man.

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15 Responses to “(Letter) China caught offering “gene doping” to athletes”

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    There are many facts the German report has ignored:

    First of all, is there even such thing as gene doping? Does stem cell therapy qualify as gene doping? According to Wikipedia, the only type of gene therapy that is associated with doping is Repoxygen, and that is not what’s been offered by this doctor.

    Stem cell threapy that’s done in Asia, South America, are “unproven stem cell therapy” that International Society for Stem Cell Research has called “snake oil”. Injection of stem cell does not alter the genes, thus is not gene therapy.

    There are some evidence stem cell may repair damaged tissue, but they seldom turn into actual muscle/nerve that its use remain unproven:


    See for yourself.

  2. Buxi Says:

    I think this is a good time to link to this article from ABC News, titled “Sports Medicine Miracle”:


    Clinical trials investigating stem cells’ potential in regenerating cartilage and healing muscle are currently under way. And already, some companies that freeze and store certain types of stem cells are promoting the potential of stem cell therapies for sports medicine. The idea is that stem cells stored now may be useful years down the road.

    But other stem cell and regenerative medicine experts say today’s sports stars shouldn’t call their agents yet because much more research needs to be done before such treatments even approach reality.

    The regenerative stem cell therapies that may one day help athletes heal mostly fall outside the debate over research on embryonic stem cells; in most cases, the cells used in sports medicine would come from other sources, such as umbilical cord blood or even the patients themselves.

    Initial steps in stem cell therapy for athletes could be modest.

    “The most likely short-term applications of stem cells would seem to be the enhancement of the healing response after injury and or surgery,” said Dr. Rick Matsen, chair of orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Washington.

    In the United States, gene therapy for athletes is called a “medicine miracle”. In China, its called “doping”.

  3. MutantJedi Says:

    Thanks yo for giving the alternate story as well.

    Stem cell research is important research. It is an ethical shame that the US can be so closed minded to this research. At the same time, the source of the stem cells is an ethical issue… difficult road with many good potentials.

    The sports stem cell story sounds fishy. One reporter talking with one doctor… who is scamming who? As with similar stories, the real issue is establishing an ethical medical culture rather that manufactured doping rumors.

    Up the treatment price to $50,000USD and the “doc” might have also offered a side of kidney from whatever source the “doc” figured would seal the deal.

    Sort of related is the broader issue of healthcare in China. As much as I’m a free market advocate, I feel that healthcare is something that should be socialized.

  4. Jon Says:

    Well written. AP is pretty sensationalist but not as bad NPR. Both are groups that if you are a Chinese company or doing business in China, you should stay away from.

    Here is a quote that I like:

    “”New medical truths do not have significant impact until they are packaged and presented according to accepted guidelines,”

    Basically in China, there is a general feeling that stem cells are effective for some diseases that have not been FDA approved in the west. There are publications in Chinese etc. and there is data. However, there have been little efforts to take the next step and get the data published in the top international publications. Basically because the amount of effort it takes, most specifically for data coming from china, is not worth the work. At some point as the companies expand overseas, it will be worth it and there is so much clinical work being done that the data will be very interesting though it probably will still be attacked as the scientific community in the west has their hands tied and this stuff is threatening to them.

    Here are some more articles that are little less sensationalized and more about the patients.


    – Jon

  5. chorasmian Says:

    Whether we should develop stem cell therapy is basically a ethic problem; and the ethic in different culture can be totally different. If giving answer according traditional Chinese view, yes, it should be developed.

  6. chorasmian Says:

    I have to point out that current Chinese stance on this issue is far from our tradition.

  7. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Yo,
    nice post. Nice to see the contrast between the 2 articles. THe MSN one is quite disappointing, because as you say, at worst they’ve identified one bad apple, and that is hardly reason to paint all of CHina with such a broad brush. Besides, this doc must be kinda dim…who in their right mind would offer HGH, “steroids”, or EPO at this point, so close to the games. You know they’ll be screening for those.
    But as you say, it would be premature to conclude that, because some journalists are insufficiently rigorous in their methods, there is a larger sinister conspiracy at play among all western media to indiscriminately crap on China.
    On a separate note, I would echo others here that I, for one, would love to see research on embryonic stem cells proceed full speed ahead, and if the US wants to get left behind because of ideology, that’s their loss.

  8. FOARP Says:

    The first story is waaaaay over the top, and not to be taken seriously. ‘China’ caught ‘gene doping’? Rubbish.

  9. Fencer Says:

    “China has never given approval to any hospital to offer performance-enhancing stem-cell therapy, an official with the Ministry of Health said here on Thursday.

    The official made the remarks in response to a German TV report that some Chinese hospitals offer what is described as performance-enhancing gene therapy treatment.”


  10. yo Says:

    thanks for the compliments guys. Yeah, when I saw that on MSNBC, I was like, okay, I’ll bite, what’s going on here? Someone already said this, but after finding the second story, I don’t want to say the stem cell therapy that the doctor was advocating was snake oil (you try telling that to the little girl), but it hasn’t be proven. So when I saw gene doping, I was wondering if China was already so advance that they leap frogged everyone else in this field 🙂 As a side note, I agree with others on this thread who say that stem cell research should be advanced.

    My opinion of the AP is going down hill. I remember they had other articles that were not as crappy as this one, but were not balanced. It’s funny, I meet an AP reporter at a party a while back and I was shocked talking to him. He was in his 20’s and I was thinking, wow, i get my news from you, seriously?

    But for all we know, most of the low quality articles could have been written by a few people, dedicated to “Asian Stories”(or perhaps an Asian bureau). And as we saw with MSNBC, they didn’t write it themselves, but picked it up from the AP. This is true for fox cnn abc, etc. So it’s conceivable that a couple of bad writers from the AP pushes out some poor piece, and it gets propagated to other news outlets, thus compounding the effect. I suggest people should actively note who is actually writing the news articles. You would be surprised how many articles from cnn or msnbc are just picked up copies from other news outlets.

  11. Buxi Says:


    I think that’s actually the real reason for the anti-China stories common in the West earlier this summer. Much of the media isn’t anti-China, but much of the media is very lazy. The number of reporters writing English-language stories from China can (not during Olympics season) probably be counted on two hands; the other thousands of news sources in the West rely on what they report. And even these reporters on the ground rely on standard “channels” they’ve developed for stories.

    I have a close friend who’s also an AP writer, for a local bureau in the United States. He has a masters’ degree in journalism, quit a different career to go into the field, and enjoys his job while being very good at it… but he’s “just” a writer, he’s nothing close to an investigative journalist.

    When he or others at his bureau wants interview leads for a story, he’ll send an email to his friends. “Any of you tried XXX/YYY? Anyone know anything about ZZZ?” That attitude is fine for some stories, but when we’re talking about the China/West divide, we need better.

  12. yo Says:

    “media is very lazy”
    Couldn’t agree more. I think journalism is inherently a noble profession but some journalists(like the AP writer in this post) have been lazy on China. True, I mean most journalists probably don’t have the resources of a Ted Koppel who went to China to do a story, so their sources are limited to a few second hand accounts from other reports on the field, which can pose a problem.

    Actually, I remember Danwei doing a forum where a journalist said that he doesn’t use sites like ESWN to generate stories, but uses it as a guide and more importantly as a translation service. Perhaps that could be a good solution, have more services like ESWN to bridge the language and geography gap.

    Also, to clarify, I don’t think all the AP is bad. Your friend is probably a good journalist. I can only speak in a qualitative sense with my impressions on the AP. I just don’t want to give you the wrong impression.

  13. Charles Liu Says:

    Follow up on the story.

    The German reporter who investigated this story has refused to help the authority to investigate this allegation. I don’t know what is the reason for refusing to identify the doctor when he has obviousely violated China’s laws and regulation on medical practice.

    Maybe someone can tell me what the journalistic standards are on reporting crime. Do journalists have the right to protect arsenist over public safety?

  14. Charles Liu Says:

    Opps, forgot to attach story:


  15. yo Says:

    Thanks for the follow up.

    Wow, that German reporter is unbelievable. He does an undercover story to expose a problem, hopefully to highlight it so it could be solved, and then later refuses to assist in identifying the doctor so the authorities could investigate the problem … just unbelievable. This journalist and his story has definitely lost a lot of credibility.

    But hey, this also illustrates a good and balanced report by the AP after the slash and grab job they did with the first article. So back to my original point in the article, always keep an eye on the whole picture.

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