onsdag 20 maj 2009

Scientist vs. scientist: the good guys try to root out the doper’s bad guys

The European Union’s Anti-Doping Conference in Athens brought together the major players in the realm of the fight against drug cheating in sports, including academics, politicians, scientists and the key stakeholders, including representatives of sports governmental authorities. It was the idea of a Greek Member of the European Parliament, Manolis Mavrommatis. Others at the two-day event in Athens included national anti-doping organisations of EU countries, accredited laboratories, athlete trade unions, and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as well as the World Association of Anti-Doping Scientists (WAADS,) which is based in Germany.
The conference was part of the European Commission’s plan to fight doping in sports and followed implementation of the so-called Pierre de Coubertin (founder of the modern Olympic games) Action Plan which is contained in the 2007 White Paper on Sport prepared by Mavrommatis. There were three key workshops where ideas were exchanged, sometimes with a sharp degree of debate, as WADA wants unannounced tests of athletes, which many EU countries are fighting because they said it violates the athlete’s right to privacy, putting anti-doping agencies at odds with governments trying to protect their athletes.
The workshop included one on data protection, which pitted those forces against each other, cooperation between anti-doping groups and pharmaceutical companies, and a laboratory workshop. Foremost in the fight are the scientists of WAADS who find themselves trying to stay one step ahead of drug cheats and athletes who use rogue scientists to devise undetectable drugs. WAADS President Costas Georgakopoulos stopped to talk to NEtv’s Andy Dabilis about his group’s role in the fight.
Greece is especially attuned to the problem of doping in Athletics, having seen even gold medalistsbeing stripped. Do you feel the fight is being won or lost, because people become more sophisticated in the desire to cheat?
This is true, because technology is improving and that means classical doping agents are more easily detected now. And this makes, creates the need for cheaters to move for the more sophisticated drugs like new drugs, illegal drugs that are synthesised in an illegal laboratories and from the laboratory bench directly go to the athlete’s body. And this creates new needs to the laboratory in order to have more wide detection methods that mean not to detect only the known substances but at least have some information that in the samples are included substances that are not detected.
You mentioned synthetic; is the problem that because people able to devise artificial drugs? Is it more difficult than finding naturally-occuring substances?
Both are important problems because a substance effected in the body, can be changed in lot of sides in the molecule in order to become either more effective or just to become different from an equally effective molecule that’s known and the target of this change, the last change is only that the substance becomes undetected because it becomes unknown to the laboratory. So it’s kind of a cat-mouse game. You detect, they find a new drug, you detect, they find a new drug… Unfortunately, we are in this circle now. And the other point that you raised is also that important that the athletes know that when they are taking exogenously endogenous substances than the laboratories sometimes are in front of difficulty to detect if this high level of endogenous substances coming from exogenous application or they’re naturally endogenous for this particular athlete. That’s why, WAADS and important media-sensitive international federations like the Cycling Federation have, are now in the procedure of introducing the … passport, which is a new tool and new, let’s say technology.
Other undetectable drugs, is it just a matter of time until you find them?
Yes, should be, should exist undetectable drugs…
There are undetectable drugs?
Yes, should exist, of course… undetectable, you mean when the test is performed?
No, are the drugs undetectable, so that there are indeed the athletes who will be using drugs, who will never be caught and will have tainted medals, or tainted achievements?
You know that, undetectable practice that is like the … blood transfusion, blood transfusion that is based on the blood of the athletes itself. So, this unfortunately, this method cannot be directly be detected, but indirectly through the athlete’s passport can be detected. So, this is one point that in future the anti-doping system should invest time and effort and funds and the infrastructure in order to create individual profiles; starting to detect steroids abuse, starting to detect blood parameters that are connected with undetected blood doping, like … blood transfusion or in the future probably to detect gin doping, which is not reality now, but it’s something that is coming in the next 10 or 15 years.

Interview with: Costas Georgakopoulos, President World Association of Anti-Doping Scientists 18 May 2009 - Issue : 834
Picture:The World Association of Anti-Doping Scientists President Costas Georgakopoulos (L) stopped to talk to NEtv at the first EU Conference on Anti-Doping, in Athens, May 13

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