A new dope test with a longer window of detection is being developed in Southampton, according to the UK Anti-Doping Agency.
Michael Stow, the agency's science and information officer, said a research team at Southampton University was working with the agency on a new growth hormone (GH) test that looks at the downstream markers of GH abuse. This should provide a longer window of detection and will be based on statistical cut-offs to establish doping.
Mr Stow was speaking to Andy Layhe of Bike Pure, the international organisation campaigning against doping in pro cycling. The latest developments in the fight against doping, particularly GH ingestion, have already caught rugby player Terry Newton, who tested positive for the substance from a blood sample.
“UK Anti-Doping (formerly UK Sport) have been collecting blood on a routine basis since 2007 and had requested the use of this test to look for Growth Hormone at times when detection was thought to be most probable.” Mr Stow said.
“UK Anti-Doping has hosted and participated in the two previous WADA Growth Hormone Expert group meetings. The majority of work for the development of this test has been done with the support of this group. The UK WADA accredited laboratory at King’s college London has been fully involved in the validation work of the test.”
The Human Growth Hormone test was initially developed in Germany by Dr Christiaan Strasburger and Dr Martin Bidlingmaier.
“There are many advantages to using such a drug for riders wishing to dope,” Mr Stow said. “When administered as a replacement therapy for growth hormone deficiency, Growth Hormone increases lean mass, reduces fat and increases strength. It is primarily for these reasons that healthy individuals, including elite athletes, have used it in an attempt to improve their physical and sporting performance.
“The test is already being used in competition. That said, because of the short window of detection the best use of this test is not in competition (when athletes know they are likely to be tested) but for no notice, out of competition testing as UK Anti-Doping have been doing.”
As with tests for other performance enhancing substances, there is a time frame that the drug remains within an athletes system. When taken as a drug, Growth Hormone is rapidly excreted from the athlete’s body and this gives only a short window of detection, a period of days as opposed to weeks. However, the research at Southampton could change this situation dramatically.