DNA secrets helping athletes improve performance
By Steve Douglas
MANCHESTER, England (AP) - British runner Jenny Meadows is using a revolutionary DNA test designed to prevent injury and improve her performance ahead of the Commonwealth Games - and a trio of leading European football teams are about to follow her lead.
The test is a brainchild of London-based company DNAFit, which obtains genetic profiles - using a simple mouth swab - to identify genes that make athletes prone to certain injuries. It can also ensure they can tailor a program of training and nutrition to fit their DNA.
Meadows, a world indoor silver medalist in the 800 meters in 2010, became the first athlete to publicly reveal the secrets of her DNA on Monday.
"I only wish I'd had this information years ago," said Meadows, who has discovered she has the gene that makes her prone to the kind of tendon injuries that forced her to miss the London Olympics in 2012.
"To get to the top as an athlete, it takes a combination of hard work, luck and timing. But if I'd have known what my genetic strengths and weaknesses I could have trained more effectively."
Dr. Keith Grimaldi, DNAFit's chief scientific officer, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that two Premier League teams and another leading club in Europe have also commissioned genetic profiles of their players. He said they can't be named for confidentiality reasons.
"The idea of having knowledge of genetic variation is such that we can give personalized advice on training programs and nutrition and also give an idea of any increased risk of tendon injury, if there is any, so that preventative measures can be taken," Grimaldi said.
The DNA test revealed to Meadows that she has an even split of power and endurance, making her ideally suited for 800 meters instead of 400 meters, and that the potential of her sustaining a sports-related soft-tissue injury was high, causing her to make changes to her training schedules that included reducing her running sessions and doing more cardio work on a bike. It also told her that her recovery times were quicker than average.
In winning the 800 at a meet in Prague last month in 2 minutes, 1.67 seconds, she is among the top six in the world this year and could be one of the favorites for gold in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
"The real eye opener has been the prediction that I have a high risk of potential sports injury," she said. "This is the biggest fear for any athlete wanting to excel at their sport."
Grimaldi said the test - it takes two weeks from taking the mouth swab to getting the results - could help football teams going to the World Cup know which players are more at risk of sunstroke or sunburn, for example.
"What we are trying to emphasize is that the genetic variants are very common," Grimaldi said. "There's no hint of any bad news in the results. The only thing you can get out of the result is useful and important to know."