A very disturbing New York Times piece cited research to be published in
Blood (oops goofed that one up) the Journal of Applied Physiology, that questioned the effectiveness of EPO testing. Give 8 athletes EPO and how many will test positive: ZERO (this is wrong; Lab A found all 8 tested positive for EPO; Abstract here). It looks like the Times did not exactly get the analysis correct.
Athletes who want to cheat by injecting themselves with a performance-enhancing drug that boosts their blood cell count can do so with little risk of getting caught, a new study indicates, possibly exposing another flaw in what is regarded as the world’s toughest anti-doping program.
A urine test that is supposed to detect the drug, and that will be used in the Tour de France next month and in the Olympics in August, is likely to miss it, the study says. The substance, recombinant human erythropoietin, known as EPO, stimulates bone marrow to speed up production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. And with more blood cells, endurance athletes like cyclists and distance runners can perform better.
"Likely to miss" EPO doping is like saying we are all likely to run at a speed a bit less than the speed of light.
We know Marion Jones used EPO, and was only positive on an 'A' sample.
Although athletes have said EPO is in widespread use, few have tested positive. Most of the athletes who have been linked to doping in recent years have been caught not through drug testing, but rather through criminal investigations. In the August 2006 issue of the journal Blood, the American lab accredited to conduct EPO testing reported only 9 positive tests out of 2,600 urine samples.
The new study may help explain why: the test simply failed.
Oh yeah, the test failed...spectacularly in Lab B if the Times is to be believed. However when we read the study, actually Lab A found all 8 EPO users to be positive, and Lab B found 7 samples to be 'suspicious'.
The study, to be published Thursday in the online edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology, was conducted last summer and fall by a renowned lab in Denmark, the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center. The investigators gave eight young men EPO and collected urine samples on multiple occasions before, during and after the men were doping. The men’s urine samples were then sent to two labs accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and EPO tests were requested.
The first lab found some samples positive and a few others suspicious. (A suspicious result does not bring sanctions for doping.) The lab also declared a sample positive, although the man had stopped taking the drug and it should have been gone from his urine. His previous urine sample, obtained when he was taking EPO, was negative in this lab’s test.
The second lab did not deem any urine sample positive for EPO and found only a few to be suspicious. The two labs did not agree on which samples were suspicious.
The anti-doping agency’s rules say that if an athlete’s urine shows traces of EPO, it must be tested again by a different accredited lab. The athlete is declared guilty of doping only if the second lab also detects EPO. By that rule, none of the subjects would have been charged with using EPO, even though their red blood cell counts rose and their performances on an endurance test improved.
Dr. Don Catlin uttered a conservative invective. Something along the line of '*#@&%@# that worthless test" would have been more appropriate.
“The paper certainly is an eye-opener,” said Don Catlin, the chief executive of Anti-Doping Research, a nonprofit group in Los Angeles. “It’s quite remarkable.”
Charles Yesalis was a bit more pessimistic:
The findings in the latest study should be no surprise, said Charles E. Yesalis, a professor of sports science at Pennsylvania State University. For decades, he said, anti-doping authorities have claimed they have tests that work and for decades athletes have been taking drugs without getting caught.
The anti-doping authorities, he said, “remind me of little boys whistling in the graveyard.”
So here is where we are at with weeks to go before the Tour de France and the Beijing Olympics: the EPO doping test appears to be an utter failure at detecting EPO doping. Disconcerting.