Warning to Beijing Olympics over pills that mimic exercise

A new threat to the Beijing Olympics has emerged in the shape of two new undetectable drugs that could boost the performance of endurance athletes by a medal-winning margin.

Scientists warned that the pills, which mimic the physiological effects of exercise, are already available and can be easily synthesised, but there is no existing test to reveal their presence. UK Sport, the government-funded agency, said yesterday's revelation was a "cause for concern" and that the World Anti-Doping Agency had been informed.

The drugs have so far only been tested on mice, but with remarkable results. The animals became mini-marathon runners, with powers of stamina that allowed them to far outrun untreated mice.

One drug, AICAR, increased running time by 44 per cent in "sedentary" mice which had done no exercise at all, and has already been dubbed the "couch potato's dream". The drug works by short-circuiting the signals normally triggered by exercise that tell cells to burn fat, lower blood sugar and suppress inflammation, thus releasing more energy.

Professor Ronald Evans, who led the research at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, said: "This is a drug that is like pharmacological exercise. We were blown away. After four weeks of receiving the drug the mice were behaving as if they had been exercised."

AICAR is not licensed for human use and is only available in Britain for research into metabolic conditions such as diabetes. Laurence Eade, the managing director of Tocris Biosciences in Bristol, which supplies AICAR at £48 for 50mgs to scientific institutions, said: "We would not send it to a university sports centre, only to the department of biochemistry. An aspiring athlete could not get it without a great deal of effort."

A second drug tested by the US researchers, called GW1516, had an even bigger impact when combined with exercise. Treated mice ran for 77 per cent longer and covered a 68 per cent greater distance than animals that exercised without the drug. GW1516 has a simple chemical structure that would be easy to synthesise, say researchers.

The aim of the research is to improve the efficiency of exercise and help those who, through frailty or ill-health, do not get enough. Professor Evans said: "If you don't like exercise, you love the idea of getting the benefits from a pill [with AICAR]. If you do like exercise, you like the idea of getting more bang for your buck [with GW1516]."

But there is a danger that the drugs could be abused by athletes. The sports world has long been aware of his laboratory's work and it was likely that athletes would seek their own sources of the drug, if they hadn't already, he said. "Drugs that improve health are not only going to be used by people who have medical problems. They may also be used by people who are healthy or by athletes who want an edge," he said.

Working with the World Anti-Doping Agency, the researchers have developed a test to detect the two compounds, but it is unlikely it will be ready for the opening of the Olympics in Beijing in two weeks' time.

A spokeswoman for the British Olympic Association said the association's chief medical officer in Beijing, Dr Ian McCurdie, was aware of the drugs.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

    Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

    Day In a Page

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test