Scientists back improved HGH test

4 October 2011

Anti-doping officials say scientists have endorsed a new test for human growth hormone that can detect use of the drug going back as far as 21 days and could be implemented in time for next year's London Olympics.

US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart told The Associated Press the "biomarker" test won unanimous consensus among anti-doping scientists and experts from around the world who attended a London symposium on detection of growth factors.

The test, which still needs final validation by the World Anti-Doping Agency, widely extends the detection window from the current "isoform" test, which can only identify HGH use going back 12 to 72 hours.

The new test, which also uses blood samples, can go back "anywhere from 10 days to 21 days," marking a potential breakthrough against one of the most potent performance-enhancers in sports, Tygart said.

"This is an important step," he said. "We're hopeful it's going to be approved by WADA soon."

In addition to use in the Olympics and international sports, the test would also be valid for use in the NFL, whose players' union has yet to agree to introduction of any HGH testing.

The biomarker test was the main focus of a closed-door conference held over the weekend and jointly organised by USADA and UK Anti-Doping.

"The consensus ... is that this test is a well validated, scientifically reliable test which extends the window of detection and would also be important to implement," Tygart told the AP following a separate anti-doping and ethics symposium in London on Monday.

He said the biomarker test had been supported by more than 30 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

The isoform test, used for the first time in 2004, is designed to detect the presence of synthetic HGH in the body. By contrast, the biomarker test scans for chemicals produced by the body after HGH use, detecting "the effects of using human growth hormone," Tygart said.

The biomarker test could be used alone or together with the isoform test.

"The two tests are complementary," Tygart said.

Olivier Niggli, legal director of WADA, said the agency would assess the new test fully before giving it the go-ahead.

"Scientists are always very optimistic," he told the AP. "We'll see where exactly where we are. We'll see whether every aspect is covered. Before anything comes into place, we want to make sure we have the answers to the questions we'll get when we go to try (the test) for the first time.

"It's very promising. There's still a bit of work to be done but we're getting there."

Niggli was coy about whether the new test would be in place at the London Games.

"If it would be, I wouldn't tell you," he said. "We want to keep the element of surprise."

While HGH testing has taken place at the Olympics since 2004, no positive tests for the hormone have been recorded at the Games. Outside of the Olympics, there have been eight positive tests for HGH in seven sports detected at seven different labs.

In the most recent case, two-time Olympic cross-country skiing champion Andrus Veerpalu of Estonia was banned for three years by the sport's governing body in August.

The federation said he tested positive for HGH in Estonia in January while preparing for the world championships.

AP

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