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Official doubts report on gene therapy for athletes
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A Chinese health official said on Monday he doubted the authenticity of a German TV report about Chinese clinics offering performance-enhancing stem-cell therapy treatment for athletes, saying that it was technically impossible at the moment.

Mao Qun'an, Health Ministry spokesman, said at a press conference that, at present, there were few hospitals or medical institutions that had the capability of offering stem-cell therapy, and that this was mainly used for the treatment of leucocythemia and lack of immunity, and not for performance-enhancing therapy.

"I have consulted some leading experts, who said the stem-cell therapy for enhancing athletes' performance was technically impossible at present, and it is also prohibited by the Chinese government," said Mao.

The ARD, a German-based television company, reported last week that a Chinese doctor offered stem-cell therapy to a reporter posing as an American swimming coach in return for US$24,000.

However, Mao said he found the documentary had no location, no time and no specific individuals. He doubted the authenticity of the report.

Mao said as the documentary was filmed with a concealed camera it was unclear that whether the doctor cheated the German TV company, or the German TV company cheated the public.

"We hope the German TV company could give a clear explanation to the public," said Mao. He also hoped the German TV company could play a role in helping the government's anti-doping efforts.

A journalist from ARD who was present at the press conference said that as far as he knew, although there was no scientific proof, it was possible to enhance athletes' performance with stem-cell therapy. Furthermore, he said he was not involved in the report.

An official with the Chinese Ministry of Health said on Thursday last week that China had never approved any hospital or medical staff to operate stem-cell therapy with the aim of improving athletes' performances.

Chinese officials hoped the foreign media could help with China's anti-doping efforts. Yan Jiangying, the spokesperson of the State Administration of Food and Drug (SFDA), said that a news report from German media earlier this year had given a lead to the SFDA to investigate and punish a company selling illegal stimulants in Anshan, in northeast China's Liaoning Province.

However, the journalist with the ARD declined to provide any clues, saying that as a journalist rather than a prosecutor, he had no duty to do so.

"We hope all the media can report a developing and changing China, objectively and truthfully," said Guo Weimin, an official with the Information Office of the State Council, China's Cabinet.

(Xinhua News Agency July 29, 2008)

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