Technische Universität München

The Entrepreneurial University

Athletes use blood doping because the better the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, the better the endurance of an athlete. Particularly, blood doping is considered beneficial to long-distance runners, cyclists and swimmers. It is reported that blood doping may lead to

  • a 7% increase in hemoglobin,
  • a 5% increase in VO2max,
  • a 34% increase in time to exhaustion at 95% VO2max and
  • a 44-second improvement in 5-mile treadmill run time performance.

Endurance-oriented sports have most often been linked with blood doping, which involves transfusing red blood cells from a donor (usually homologous) to increase the amount of hemoglobin available to transport oxygen to muscles (and thereby improve athletic performance). Although blood doping is demonstrably effective in improving athletic performance, it entails invasive procedures and the risk that transfusion materials will be detected by anti-doping authorities. Furthermore, there is a health risk associated with blood transfusion. Even under controlled clinical settings it may present a significant risk of hemolytic reaction associated with mismatched blood, or sepsis due to bacterial contamination of the transfused blood.

No absolutely reliable test has been yet introduced for blood doping detection. Artificial oxygen carriers or blood substitutes are being developed to serve as a temporary replacement for transfused red blood cells. These agents are either based upon modified hemoglobin of perfluorocarbons. The artificial oxygen carriers were derived from the tremendous effort on developing products to address the worldwide shortage of donor blood. They have been developed as substitutes to replace the oxygen-carrying functions of erythrocytes usually during surgery and trauma situations.

Perfluorocarbons are chemically synthesized compounds with carbon atom backbones. They can dissolve large quantities of gases such as oxygen even 100 times more oxygen per volume than plasma. The therapeutic goal in medicine is to provide temporary oxygen supply to the brain and other tissues in patients with massive loss of blood and whose vital functions are in danger.  


In terms of doping, the desired effect is the increase in cardiac capacity during the first months of pregnancy. Afterwards, there is an increase in blood volume, in the number of red blood cells and in hemoglobin. Thus, the resulting enhancement in oxygen delivery to the muscles leads to a 10% increase in the physical capacity. The risks stem from the vulnerability of the fetus starting with the third month of pregnancy. An abortion planned after the key sport event represents a significant danger for women if it is carried out in a non-medical environment by inexperienced personnel. There may also be a significant psychological impact.