Blood or urine? HGH testing feud simmers

Blood or urine? HGH testing feud simmers
February 1st, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Blood or urine? HGH testing feud simmers

Blood or urine? HGH testing feud simmers


Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - Olympic athletes soon will have their blood tested for human growth hormone, but the NFL and baseball officials instead are embracing the unproven concept of urine testing in their bid to stop use of the performance-enhancing drug.
Critics question whether the pro leagues truly are intent on rooting out HGH, thought to be widely abused because no one currently is testing for it. But baseball and football officials say they are stymied by union contracts that prohibit taking blood from players, and they cite privacy concerns and doubts about the accuracy of blood tests.
The two leagues recently awarded grants worth a combined $1 million to develop a urine test, but even the scientist who received most of the research money concedes an effective urine screen is years away, meaning players can continue using HGH with little fear of getting caught.
"It's a difficult proposition," said Don Catlin, chief of the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at UCLA. "It's going to take a while."
This blood feud over how to root out cheaters has opened a deep schism at the highest levels of amateur and professional sports.
The World Anti-Doping Agency plans to test the blood of elite amateur athletes by the end of this year. The agency's chief, Dick Pound, dismissed efforts by the NFL, Major League Baseball and their unions as "a piddling little amount" spent on unproven technology to combat a major problem.
"Our view is that it's out there being used with impunity because of the lack of testing," Pound said.
Anti-doping agencies that police amateur athletes around the globe have spent nearly $10 million over the past decade to develop a blood test to detect synthetic growth hormone.
"All the experts we have consulted told us to forget about urine tests," said Olivier Rabin, the anti-doping agency's top scientist. "In urine you will find less than 1 percent of human growth hormone than you will find in the blood."
Human growth hormone occurs naturally in the body and synthetic versions taken by injection are chemically identical, making detection difficult. The new blood tests are designed to find higher-than-normal hormone levels that can be reached only by taking synthetic versions.
Rabin said the blood test can detect the presence of synthetic growth hormone for about two days after it's injected, which requires the agency to conduct unannounced, random samplings.
Some 300 athletes at the 2004 Olympics in Athens underwent blood testing without a positive result. But Rabin says testing deterred human growth hormone use because athletes knew the tests were coming.
An NFL official, however, said that proves the tests were unreliable.
"Our indication is that there are outstanding issues with respect to the availability and the reliability of the blood test," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Donald Fehr, head of the baseball players' union, said: "We would have nothing to say about it until it came out and we had an opportunity to review it."
Human growth hormone is produced in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain that controls growth and other functions. In the mid-1980s, scientists at the biotechnology pioneer Genentech Inc. figured out how to produce the hormone by genetically engineering human genes into bacteria.
Since then, the global market for human growth hormone has reached nearly $1 billion annually with seven companies, including Eli Lilly & Co., Pfizer Inc. and Novartis, producing similar versions. Its uses include treating pituitary gland tumors and growth disorders in children.
But black market demand for the drug is strong and growing. It has become the darling of anti-aging advocates and professional athletes looking to boost energy, increase strength and stave off the effects of getting old.
Even without testing, several athletes have been caught. Last year, federal investigators intercepted a package of growth hormone sent to Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley.
Grimsley said he began using HGH in order to evade baseball's newly implemented steroids testing program in 2003, according to federal investigators. He also identified several other players who used or supplied drugs, though their names were blacked out of court documents.
Grimsley's case bolstered anti-doping experts' belief that abuse is rampant in baseball and raised public awareness about the drug.
A doctor prescribed human growth hormone to several Carolina Panthers football players during the team's 2003 Super Bowl season, according to court records. During that time, no player was suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. The doctor, James Shortt, was sentenced to a year in prison in December.
Still, the extent of human growth hormone use by athletes is unclear, and might never be known.
"The stuff works and it works well," said Chuck Yesalis, a Penn State expert on performance-enhancing drugs. "I would be in the camp that says it's a pandemic."

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