Don’t Dope, Athletes

New doping tests that could be used at the 2012 London Olympics should ward off cheaters better than ever before.

Sep 14, 2011
Jef Akst

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, RAE SLATER

Scientists are developing new tests for human growth hormone (HGH) and autologous blood doping—a technique involving drawing one’s blood, storing it, and transfusing it back into the body to increase the number of circulating red blood cells and oxygen—that should be available in time to be used at the 2012 Olympic Games, held in London.

Previously, HGH tests were only able to detect doping that occurred within a few days of testing, and “blood doping has been nearly impossible to detect,” ScienceInsider reported. The new HGH test expands the surveillance window for detecting misuse, while the new test for autologous blood doping uses RNA profiles to prevent athletes from avoiding detection by diluting their blood with saline.

The upcoming games will be the "riskiest ever" for cheaters, David Cowan of King's College London, head of the 2012 Olympics’ antidoping program, said at the British Science Festival in Bradford earlier this week. Though he declined to state whether the new tests would actually be used to test next year’s Olympic athletes, he’s hopeful that just their existence will help deter misconduct. “We want to get the message out there that science can detect cheats."

Should the International Olympic Committee decide to use the new tests, Cowan and his team have enlisted the help of GlaxoSmithKline in London to help scale up production to handle the 6,000+ samples they could receive.