Remember George Mason's deep run into the 2006 NCAA basketball tournament? That's not the point here. The point is Mason professors moved doping tests forward with the development of an HGH urine test. USA Today says so:
Just as George Mason University's athletics program was overshadowed in the Washington, D.C., region — never mind the nation — until its men's basketball team made a surprising run to the NCAA Final Four two years ago, the school's medical research program had worked in relative obscurity until a major breakthrough this summer.
Two GMU professors whose primary interest had been cancer research developed the first urine test for human growth hormone. Working outside the Olympic movement, outside the traditional research environment of a university-backed teaching hospital, and 20 miles outside the university's main campus in Fairfax, Va., Emanuel "Chip" Petricoin and Lance Liotta moved directly to the forefront of international sports' anti-doping efforts. They also furthered — at least for now — their university's high-risk, high-reward pursuit of national renown and future income.
The Mason technology utilizes nanotraps to grab minute amounts of HGH in the test tube. Although not specified, the isolated HGH molecules then must be identified as exogenous to the athlete.
It wasn't until earlier this year that they began to alter a test — which they hope one day will be able to detect cancer at its earliest stages — to find HGH in urine. There has been a blood test for HGH for a few years, but it's extremely expensive and its reliability has been questioned within the anti-doping community. The test has been used at the last three Olympics but has failed to identify an athlete using HGH. There is no indication major sports leagues or their players' unions are eager to implement it.
Mixing chemicals that cost less than $100, Petricoin and Liotta created a reaction in the lab that creates millions of nanoparticles tailored to find HGH — and, one day, possibly cancer. The particles, which would be placed in a specimen container before collection, find, trap and preserve the compound so standard testing equipment can detect HGH.
The next step is having their research accepted by the scientific, athletic and legal communities. That process took a step forward last week when their research into the HGH test was published in Nano Research, a peer-reviewed journal specializing in the science of engineering on an atomic and molecular scale.
Ceres, the biotech company, is cooperating with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for the next phase: identifying a normal range of HGH in the body. The study will take urine from dozens of adults 18 to 45 who volunteer to give samples at an on-campus athletics facility.
The professors are still early in the approval process, which could take years, according to Frederic Donze, a spokesman for the World Anti-Doping Agency, which approves testing procedures used in Olympic sports.
"There is usually a long way between research and implementation of a methodology for anti-doping purpose," Donze says via e-mail. "A significant element of this process is that the anti-doping community needs to make sure that any detection method can withstand any … scientific and legal challenge."
The most recent incarnation of the test for endurance-boosting EPO — a test that has flagged several cyclists at the Tour de France and a handful of athletes at the Beijing Olympic this summer — took four years, Donze says.
Don Catlin, who founded the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory and is widely viewed as the dean of anti-doping research, spent years seeking this HGH test and has been in constant contact with the professors in hope of getting their test accepted.
"We have made substantial progress," says Catlin, who sat alongside Liotta during a panel discussion at a summit about HGH that Major League Baseball sponsored last month. "I'm excited about it. We have Dr. Liotta, who walks in as a breath of fresh air with a new technology."
The USA Today piece focuses on the entrepeneurial aspect of the Mason research. We are excited about the anti-doping potential.