Military funds blood doping research

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has received a $4.7 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to fund the development of a new class of drugs to enhance soldiers’ performance at high altitude by dilating the blood vessels.

“Our blood carries less oxygen at high altitudes,” said Dr. Jonathan Stamler, who will direct the research. “And there is not much we can do about it. But if we could improve blood flow in tissues we could deliver more oxygen regardless of how much oxygen the blood carries.”

The body produces nitric oxide and releases it into the bloodstream to dilate the blood vessels when increased blood flow is needed. Dr. Stamler plans to research ways to deliver nitric oxide to the blood through inhalers.

The Case Western Reserve School of Medicine notes potential non-military applications to enhance blood delivery such as with “heart failure, ischemic heart disease, stroke, sickle cell disease and diabetes,” though I can think of a certain other class of users *cough*enduranceathletes* who might see a use for an inhaler that can increase blood flow and improve their athletic performance.

Researchers already know that inhaled NO improves blood oxygen for high altitude athletics, and bodybuilders take supplements that claim to increase NO production in the body for improved endurance and muscle building, although these claims seem to be dubious.

Viagra works, incidentally, by stimulating nitric oxide production in the penis, and athletes were known to take Viagra to boost their performance during the 2008 Olympics. The World Anti Doping Agency is researching the effects of Viagra on athletic performance but, so far, Viagra and similar performance enhancing drugs are not on the WADA prohibited substances list.

Nitroglycerin also stimulates the release of nitric oxide, which causes vasodilation which in turn eases chest pain from angina. Cyclists doped with nitroglycerin (mixed in a cocktail of other substances, including cocaine and amphetamines) for six day races around the turn of the 20th Century. During that era, horse racers stopped doping their steeds with nitroglycerin because they discovered it permanently damaged their animals. They switched to a “safer” formula that included strychnine.

Nitrous oxide is not the same thing as nitric oxide. Nitrous (or NOS) enhances a race car’s performance and is also used in rocket fuel. For human use, Nitrous oxide is known as “laughing gas” and will only improve athletic performance in your own mind. It’s also the propellant in whipped creampropellant in whipped cream cans.

H/T to Cycle Dog.

5 Comments

  • bikesgonewild
    August 7, 2010 - 4:15 pm | Permalink

    …undoubtedly what this world needs is a new drug to fix “stupid” but i don't see that happening…

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  • Bikinginla
    August 7, 2010 - 11:18 pm | Permalink

    And even if it did, only smart people would take it.

  • bikesgonewild
    August 8, 2010 - 10:27 pm | Permalink

    …good point…but i'd amend that to say “only rich, smart people”

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