Sciencegirl in the Media

Publications include: Love it! magazine, Tameside Advertiser, Cork Evening Echo & The Village Observer

Growth Hormone Test Will Catch the Cheats! July 2012 for The Times

By Jenny Gawley

“You will not be caught using this drug, you’ll win every competition for the next five years, but then you will die from the side effects of the substance.”

In a survey of elite American athletes, more than 50% said they would accept this hypothetical bargain. The use of growth hormone (GH) might be considered the drug most fitting this description today.

Developing reliable tests for misused GH has historically been difficult because it is a naturally occurring substance in our bodies.

All that is about to change with a new test debuting in this year’s London Olympics. Developed by Professor Richard Holt and his research team, the new test can detect the use of GH up to 21 days after administration.

The current GH test, introduced at the 2004 Athens Olympics, is only effective within 24hrs of a dose being administered. But athletes use it for prolonged periods to gain muscle mass, increase exercise capacity and improve oxygen uptake, but then avoid doing so in competitions when drug tests are more likely.

The new test works by measuring the levels of two proteins that are produced in response to GH administration. These two proteins act as markers because they remain at elevated levels in the body even after excess GH has been eliminated.

In order to develop the test, the team had to determine what the normal ratios of GH and the GH sensitive proteins are in elite athletes. It was important to recruit elite athletes for the study to best match the population the test will be used for.

By establishing these baseline parameters, a sample of blood drawn from athletes at the Olympics will reveal if doping occurred before competition.

Just under half of the athletes were provided through the UK Anti-Doping testing program and the rest were athletes recruited from rugby, football, sailing, triathlon, rowing, hockey and swimming clubs.

During the study one male athlete provided by the UK Anti-Doping program was inadvertently caught doping with GH when the research team became suspicious of measurements that were deemed to be incompatible with normal physiology.

The researchers were compelled to report the athlete to the authorities for his own clinical well-being. Athletes often take up to ten times the recommended therapeutic doses in the plight to increase their competitive edge, with dangerous consequences.

Complications from prolonged abuse of GH include hypertension, diabetes, cardiomyopathy and even cancer, but research has shown that its use can lead to an improvement of 0.4s in the 100m race (the infamous Ben Johnson who was disqualified at the Seoul games of 1988 for steroid abuse later admitted to also using GH.)

A recent article in the Lancet reported that 7% of elite athletes actually admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, but tests only identified 1%. Put into perspective, this implies that of the 14,000 participants competing in London, around 1,000 of them have will have been involved in doping but only ten will be caught

If this is the most advanced GH test the Olympics has ever seen can we expect the number of positive tests to rise? “If people are cheating they are more likely to be caught than ever before,” said Professor Holt “but with new anti-doping polices hopefully people are less likely to try.”

Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, is reported to earn $20 million (£12 million) a year and with the stakes so high, athletes and their advisers are becoming more sophisticated. Professor Holt is optimistic “They are always one step ahead but we’re narrowing the gap all the time.”

Typically, an athlete or coach will have heard of the benefits of a drug in their clinical application either by word of mouth or from a journal and will want to try it.

GH therapy was first used in the 1950s to treat children with GH deficiency and is now approved for other conditions that restrict growth, including Turner syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, chronic renal failure and the muscle wasting effects of AIDS.

There are dozens of Facebook pages advocating the use of GH and openly offering international shipments of ‘hormones, steroids and pills’, mainly sourced in China and Russia. By taking advantage of black market sources, GH abusers are also at risk of contracting Creutzfeld-Jacob disease (CJD).

Since the 1980s, GH for the medical market has been artificially manufactured using DNA technology, eliminating the risk of contracting CJD. Sources of illicit GH cannot be verified, and illegally imported GH has been found to contain trace elements of metals.

For those athletes contemplating using GH the message is clear: “Firstly, don’t do it because it’s cheating. Secondly, don’t do it because it’s very bad for your long-term health and thirdly, don’t do it because we will catch you!” warns Professor Holt.

Could London 2012 be the cleanest games ever? Keep Britain Tidy!

Sources: see below

GH Timeline

1920 Researchers extract and purify bovine GH and use it to treat type-I diabetes

1956 Maurice Raben, an American endocrinologist, purifies GH from human cadavers and successfully treats a 17 year old boy with GH deficiency.

1960 The National Pituitary Agency (NPA) is formed to control procurement and distribution of cadaver-GH.

1981 US pharmaceutical company, Genetech, develop the first synthetic GH

1982 GH is first mentioned in The Underground Steroid Handbook

1985 The FDA receive four reports of CJD in people that had received GH from the NPA

1988 Ben Johnson breaks 100m world record and later admits abusing GH along with steroids

1989 GH is banned by the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission

2004 A test for GH is introduced for the first time at the Athens Olympics but has a detection window of less than 24hrs. No-one tests positive.

2010 Rugby league player, Terry Newton, becomes the first person to test positive for GH. Sadly, he committed suicide shortly thereafter.

2012 Following 12 years of research Professor Holt and his research team introduce the new and improved test for GH, just in time for  what will be the best games in Olympic history (according to certain unbiased people).

Olympic cheating

+          Ancient Olympians caught cheating would be banished from the city and never allowed to return.

+          The first modern Olympian caught doping was Swedish pentathlete, Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall. He drank two beers before the pistol shooting event to ‘calm his nerves’. He was disqualified for ethanol doping.

+          ‘Female’ German athlete Dora Ratjen competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics but was later discovered to be a man.

+          The Spanish intellectually disabled basketball team were forced to give back their gold medal after the 2000 Sydney Paralympics when it was discovered 10 out of the 12 had no mental deficiency.

+          The highest number of athletes to be disqualified from the Olympics was 27 the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Sources include:

Professor Richard Holt –personal communication

Holt. Richard, et al ‘The development of decision limits for the implementation of the GH-2000 detection methodology using current commercial insulin-like growth factor-I and amino terminal pro-peptide of type III collagen assays’ Growth Hormone and IGF Research, 22 (2) 2011

Holt, Richard, et al ‘Detecting Growth Hormone Abuse in Athletes’ Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 401 (2)

Guha. Nishan et al ‘Growth hormone abuse: a threat to elite sport’ The Biologist

World Anti-Doping Agency

The GH-2004 Project

The International Olympic Committee Medical Commission

Dutch Scientists Grow Meat in a Lab! February 2012 The Cork Evening Echo

By Jenny Gawley

Red Wine Offers New Health Benefits! April 2012 The Daily Post

Sipping v Quaffing: how to reap the health benefits of red wine

By Jenny Gawley

For the last few decades the mainstream press have extolled the virtues of moderate red wine consumption, particularly the possible cardioprotective benefits of resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes. Sales of red wine have increased dramatically as the masses have embraced the notion of ‘healthy’ drinking but it seems only those truly appreciating the wine reap the cardioprotective benefits.

Once resveratrol reaches the gut it is rapidly converted into another compound called piceatannol and so does not enter the bloodstream. Sipping wine slowly, however, allows the resveratrol to be absorbed intact via the mucous membranes in the mouth, which greatly increases resveratrol blood levels. So perhaps the quaffers should pay heed to the wine connoisseur and pause to appreciate the taste and mouth-feel attributes of the wine, improving their health all the while.

Although many wine drinkers already delight in savouring a good red on the palate, it’s not all bad news for the quaffers. New research by scientists at Purdue University, Indiana indicates that piceatannol, the breakdown product of resveratrol, might have its own health benefits. The study, published in this week’s issue of The Journal of Biological Chemistry, reports that piceatannol prevents fat cells from maturing, thereby arresting fat cell formation. Although still in its preliminary stages it has potential implications for combating rising obesity levels and preventing weight gain.

As noteworthy as the research is, it presents a serious dilemma to the red wine drinker: sip to save your heart or quaff to quell the weight? It’s probably wise to have two glasses on the go, one for sipping and one for quaffing. Just to be sure, of course.

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