Athletics: Drug test sought for Sydney

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIAN ATHLETES will be injected with a banned performance-enhancing drug in a programme to develop a reliable test before the Sydney Olympics.

Volunteers aged 18 to 35 will be given a course of the drug erythropoietin (EPO). The substance occurs naturally in humans, but endurance athletes have injected synthetic forms to enhance their performance. EPO increases the ability of the blood to carry oxygen.

Cyclists are tested for EPO use, and prevented from competing when their levels reach a certain mark. But the drug cannot be detected in urine samples and the blood test is not entirely reliable.

The 22 volunteers for the study have to stand out of competition for 14 weeks because it will take nine weeks for the drug to leave the body after the five-week programme. TheEPO will be given in small doses under the management of physiologists and doctors, and the volunteers were screened for adverse effects.

Scientists hope to develop a blood test for EPO by the end of April, with approval in time for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.