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Drug experts to assess tests for banned hormones

April 21, 1997

LONDON (AP) _ Researchers from around the world are meeting in Switzerland this week, pooling their efforts to develop reliable tests for some of the most widely-used banned drugs in sport.

The anti-doping summit Tuesday and Wednesday in Lausanne is organized by the International Olympic Committee, which has come under scrutiny for what critics say is an ineffective drug-testing program.

About two dozen scientists from Sweden, Italy, the United States, France, Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, Britain and Germany are attending the closed-door meetings.

The IOC wants to hear what progress the researchers have made in testing for human growth hormone (hGH), erythropoietin (EPO) and testosterone _ three of the performance-enhancing drugs of choice in international sport.

EPO and hGH can not be detected by standard urine tests, while there is disagreement over the procedures used in measuring testosterone levels.

``The real aim of the meeting is to know where we stand right now on the research,″ IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said. ``We’re not trying to reach any consensus. We just want to give the opportunity for all the experts to get together and exchange ideas. It could help reach a breakthrough in the long run.″

EPO, a natural hormone used in the treatment of kidney patients, is believed to be widely used by athletes in endurance sports, such as cycling, cross-country skiing and long-distance running.

HGH is considered the perfect alternative to steroids by strength athletes. It shortens an athlete’s recovery time after intense training and allows a competitor to work out harder and more often.

Testosterone, which is considered a steroid and helps build muscle mass, can be identified in urine tests. However, there has been controversy over the levels of testosterone considered acceptable in the tests.

Urine tests measure the ratio between testosterone and epitestosterone. Under IOC rules, the maximum acceptable level is 6-to-1. Critics say this is too high, noting that the normal level for men is 1.3-to-1 or lower.

Some researchers say blood tests are the best way to detect EPO and hGH, but the IOC has backed away from blood sampling and pressed forward with finding a reliable urine test.

``The IOC will be the first body to recognize blood samples as long as some scientists give us the real solution,″ Schamasch said. ``If the solution is blood samples, we will do so. But we need to be certain the test is 100 percent reliable and can be done all around the world.″

The international cycling federation recently started taking blood samples from riders before races. If the test shows an excessive level of red blood cells, the rider is not allowed to take part in the race.

The Lausanne meeting comes against the backdrop of a recent article in Sports Illustrated magazine which describes drug-testing as a sham and says athletes rely more than ever on banned performance enhancers.

The Sports Illustrated article described last summer’s Atlanta Olympics as ``a carnival of sub-rosa experiments in the use of performance-enhancing drugs.″ It said drug-testing in Atlanta was ``almost comically ineffective.″

The IOC sanctioned only two positive drug tests in Atlanta, the fewest at a Summer Olympics since the 1980 Moscow Games.

Five positive tests for the stimulant and masking agent bromantan were overturned by an arbitration court. Five other positives for steroids were thrown out by the IOC because of uncertainty over new high resolution mass spectrometer machines.

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