THE World Anti-Doping Agency has responded to our comments yesterday regarding microbiology research at Oslo University which demonstrates that the benefits of doping may last for decades, long after athletes have ceased to use performance-enhancing drugs.

Professor Kristian Gundersen, whom we interviewed almost a year ago on his findings from research on mice, featured on a Five Live documentary on Tuesday evening. The BBC explored the issues we raised on reinstated cheats still benefiting from the effects years later.

This, we suggested, may explain why 2004 Olympic 100 metres champion Justin Gatlin is running the fastest times of his career at 32 - quicker than anyone at his age in history.

The inclusion of the American in the shortlist for the International Association of Athletics Federations' male athlete of the year award has provoked uproar. IAAF vice president Lord Coe has expressed disquiet, and I personally have declined to cast a vote in this category while Gatlin remains on the list.

WADA worked hard to broker a consensus on doubling the two-year penalty for using performance enhancing drugs. "The increase to four-year sanctions was one of the main changes of the revised World Anti-Doping Code," a spokesman told us. "Importantly, athletes were one of main proponents of this change."

That will take effect in January. However, we have long advocated life bans for major enhancers like steroids, blood-boosting erethropoietin, and human growth hormone. Montreal-based WADA does not agree, citing legal difficulties in making this stick, but their response is enthusiastic about the findings of Gundersen's team.

"The [research] was well conducted, and supported by good science. However, it is important not to extrapolate this one study to further increase sanctions when there are other factors to consider; from a scientific perspective, whilst the Oslo research presents its own findings, some other research conducted in the past has shown that some muscle modifications in mice or rodents cannot be directly translated to humans."

WADA is currently sponsoring research in this field looking specifically at the long-term impact of anabolic steroids on human muscles.

"Furthermore, there is the important issue of proportionality and human rights; lifetime sanctions in such cases have been proven not to be supported by the court of law, so this aspect must be balanced alongside the need to protect clean athletes."

It is clearly hard to reach a global consensus on sanctions, but countless organisations suspend offenders for life. Paedophile teachers have employment rights removed; corrupt police and lawyers are sanctioned, doctors and dentists guilty of misconduct are struck off. What makes cheating sportsmen any different?

The Oslo research showed that even without drugs, cell nuclei can respond to "muscle memory", lessons learned "decades earlier", says Gundersen. He is confident the mice effect will be replicated in men, and this has prompted WADA to agree to fund research into the effect of steroids on human muscle.

This was Gundersen's original interest, in helping maintain quality of life. "To increase the nuclei is much harder when you are old than when you are young," he told Herald Sport. "So it is good advice to do exercise when you are young. Even if you don't train throughout life, you might benefit from that in old age. Frailty of the elderly is big problem."

In other words: use it or lose it.

Oliver Rabin, WADA's director of science, said WADA is "gathering solid and robust scientific" evidence, and does not rule out longer bans. WADA say their rules do not stand still and they will continue to debate them, waiting for "conclusive science to back up any changes in the future."

National legislation also evolves, reflecting public opinion. If cheating becomes universally despised, who knows? Germany is considering legislation to criminalise possession of such drugs. Menzies Campbell tried to introduce this in Britain, but it was considered too difficult to police.

The tide of public opinion may one day change that.