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Bond University study aims to stamp out drug cheats

Bond University researchers want to make it harder for athletes to cheat drug tests, with a new study aimed at finding alternative methods to detect the use of growth hormones.

Funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the research project is looking for changes in the blood that can be identified over a longer timeframe than current tests, which need to virtually take place immediately as growth hormones leave the system quickly.

Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine research assistant and PhD student James Keane said the first phase of the project started in 2009, with the next step now underway and more important than ever in the wake of the latest revelations of cheating at the highest level in cycling and new allegations of drug use in Australian sport.

“We received funding for the new phase of the project before these hit the media, but the Lance Armstrong situation in particular is a good example of what we are aiming to achieve with our research,” he said.

“In his case he admitted to using testosterone and EPO, both of which current testing has only a very narrow window to detect.

“It is easy for athletes to avoid if they know when the test is going to come. You basically have to catch them in the act.

“What we are trying to find is an indicator that can be detected over a longer period and, therefore, that narrows the opportunity for those trying to cheat.”

Mr Keane said the initial study in 2009 looked at the blood results of those given a growth hormone injection and those given a placebo over a three week period.

The new study will compare those results to new ones taken from athletes and non-athletes after a single exercise session.

“Basically, we are looking at gene expression to see if a panel of changes can be uncovered in those who used the hormones. The new research will eliminate any changes that show up for both the athletes and non-athletes as a result of the exercise session,” said Mr Keane.

“It is a starting point to see if we can uncover a new and improved way to detect drug cheats.”

Mr Keane said researchers were looking for 30 untrained and 30 trained athletes to take part in the study. The trained athletes will include 10 from each of endurance, sprint and resistance.

He said the untrained participants needed to be healthy, non smokers or users of prescription drugs and aged between 18 and 35.

“We need untrained athletes as they will have a bigger response to the exercise session. They will undergo a fitness assessment with pre and post blood samples taken for us to analyse,” said Mr Keane.

“The trained athletes don’t need to be ‘elite’ athletes as such, just those with a large body of training. As both the endurance and sprint tests will be cycling based, trained cyclists would be best in those areas, with the resistance exercise weight based.

“The trained athletes will just need to take part in the blood test after a rest day.”

Mr Keane said the exercise assessments and blood tests would take place over the coming months and the study would be finalised by the end of the year.

If you are interested in taking part, please contact Mr Keane on 07 5595 4141 or [email protected]

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