Drugs in sport: HGH test `ready by 2000'

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The Independent Online
A BREAKTHROUGH on testing for human growth hormone - the thinking athlete's steroid -- in time for the Sydney Olympics now looks likely, according to the British expert in charge of a $2m (pounds 1.2m) research project jointly funded by the International Olympic Committee and the European Union, writes Mike Rowbottom.

Professor Peter Sonksen, of St Thomas's Hospital, received what he described as a "very positive" reaction to his final report from the IOC medical commission at a meeting that went on late into Tuesday night.

"We have a test now that will pick up a high proportion of cases where human growth hormone has been artificially administered," Sonksen said.

"If decisions are taken swiftly, the test can be in place for the Games of 2000."

The test is dependent upon the taking of blood samples from competitors, but Sonksen is confident that there are no major obstacles to the installation of a technique that was introduced at the 1994 Winter Olympics.

The five-year project, named GH2000, has involved taking blood samples from close to 1000 athletes, the last batch coming from the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in September of last year.

Illegal use of human growth hormone is believed to be a major factor in doping abuse worldwide. The discovery of supplies within the Chinese swimming team's possessions at the last World Championships provided one of the highest profile pieces of evidence, but Sonksen said a picture of systematic abuse was evident from the large-scale theft of the substance.

"Horrendous amounts of HGH go missing," he said. "Trucks carrying pharmaceuticals are hijacked, and only the human growth hormone is taken." The IOC medical commission is now setting up a working committee to implement the research.

Sonksen believes the jointly funded international project could be a model for future research into another undetectable substance, erythropoietin (EPO), which almost brought the Tour de France cycle race to a halt last summer.