08 April 2009

Racing against gene doping

There is no gene doping yet, and the fight against it has already begunVladimir Fradkin, Deutsche Welle
Scientists at the German Higher Sports School in Cologne are developing methods for detecting such drugs, which are not yet used as doping, but may be used in this capacity in the near future.

In recent years, there has probably not been a single major international sports competition, not to mention the World Championships and the Olympic Games, at which the problem of doping would not have risen to its full height. And the saddest thing is that, despite all the efforts of the International Anti–Doping Agency, this problem does not lose its urgency. Moreover, experts are convinced that scandals with exposure are just the tip of the iceberg: dozens and hundreds of athletes, entire teams abuse doping, and only a few come across.

Competitions of athletes are increasingly turning into competitions of pharmacologists and physicians – those who develop new stimulants, and those who are looking for means and ways to identify them. The scientists of the German Higher Sports School in Cologne belong to these second ones. They are trying to find methods for detecting such pharmaceuticals and biologically active substances, which may not be used as doping yet, but most likely will be used in this capacity in the near future.

Preventive researchThe scientists themselves call this area of work preventive anti-doping research.

Now their main goal is the fight against gene doping that is already looming on the horizon. In particular, a substance that received the technical designation GW1516 attracted special attention of experts. This substance, developed by the pharmaceutical concern GlaxoSmithKline, has been included in the list of banned drugs compiled by the International Anti-Doping Agency since the beginning of this year. Cologne scientists have developed a method for detecting it in the blood of athletes.

Gene doping in the narrow and broad senses of the wordAccording to Professor Mario Thevis, gene doping in the narrow sense of the word, that is, the transfer of extraneous genetic material or foreign cells into the athlete's body, should be considered as a kind of abuse of gene therapy.

But this is a very complex method, so scientists assume that it has not yet reached its application on a large scale, and therefore it is not as urgent and obvious a threat as from the relatively easily available drug GW1516.

This substance makes it possible to implement gene doping in the broader sense of the word: it enhances the so-called expression, that is, the activity of genes. In this particular case, this means this: an athlete taking GW1516 begins to produce more enzymes in the cells of muscle tissue that break down fats. Such an effect could be extremely useful for patients suffering from obesity. It is on them that the drug is being tested today.

However, some athletes may be tempted by the same effect," says Professor Tevis: "In the course of research, mainly in animal experiments, it has been shown that due to taking the drug, the endurance of the body increases, and this increase in endurance reaches 70 percent. After all, the so-called oxidative metabolism is largely based on the burning of fat reserves. It is this effect that determines endurance."

From blood analysis to urine analysisThe method of detecting GW1516 developed by Cologne scientists involves several stages.

First, a blood sample is placed in a centrifuge, which allows the plasma to be separated from the cellular components. Then the impurities interfering with the analysis are removed by chromatography. And finally, mass spectrometry allows you to detect doping in the blood itself, if it is there.

According to Professor Tevis, the method is quite reliable, and the equipment necessary for such an analysis is available in any doping laboratory. And yet the method needs to be improved. After all, until now, all the scientific data that the Cologne scientists have are obtained on the basis of a blood test.

"We also want to extend this method to urine, because most often it is urine that is brought to us for doping analysis," says Professor Tevis. Therefore, he and his colleagues see their main task today in finding out what metamorphoses GW1516 substance undergoes in the body and in what form it eventually enters the urine. Then his traces can be reliably detected there, and this in itself will have a positive effect, since the high probability of exposure, as a rule, deters an athlete from doping.

SPEAKING OF DOPINGDoping: Frequently Asked Questions

Evgeny Dzichkovsky, SPORT-EXPRESSIn the last two years, Russian sport has received several very sensitive blows to its reputation.

Due to problems with doping, seven athletes, five masters of sports walking, representatives of the Russian rowing team, skiers and a number of representatives of other sports earned disqualifications at once. Right now, several doping thrillers involving our athletes are unfolding at once. Whatever the proponents of a balanced approach say, it's a lot. And it's unpleasant.

Sergey Kushchenko, Valentin Balakhnichev and other sports functionaries have already spoken on the pages of SE about the reasons why Russian athletes use doping. In their opinion, the root of evil lies in big money, an ill–conceived payment system, coaching careerism and the peculiarities of the organization of domestic sports, because of which the athlete feels socially unprotected. In addition, there are also political and technological aspects of the fight against doping. They will be discussed today in the material, designed in the now popular Internet style of Frequently asked questions (FAQ) - "Frequently Asked questions".

Is there an international anti-Russian anti-doping lobby?Does not exist.

But there is so-called targeted testing, when anti-doping services do not check everyone in a row, but those who need to be checked. Targeted measures are always more effective, but the motives can be very different: a problematic sport, any suspicious information, a medical assumption, a banal "knock". According to a number of signs, it is revealed on whom and on what to set a trap. The message is this: it would be necessary to check. And check.

If cases of doping, concealment of positive samples, withdrawal of tests from doping officers at customs become more frequent in some country (in Russia such measures are motivated by the fight for biosafety) - WADA and international federations have the right to be wary. And launch additional external control programs. The international community, in fact, helps to provide such a country with normal anti-doping control. Of course, it is better not to bring the matter to this offensive situation.

Is Russia currently subject to the application of special programs?In some sports, special attention is paid to Russia, there is no escape from this, they asked for it themselves.

In biathlon, athletics, rowing – first of all. Here we are checked a little more than the others. However, not much. So, last year, the target testing of Russians in athletics amounted to about 180 samples, Americans – about 140, Chinese - 130. The figures are quite comparable, despite the high-profile cases with our athletics women's seven, five walkers and so on.

Russia is not considered an empire of doping evil. At the same time, it is important not to endlessly test someone else's patience. Violations in the same sports, the inability to restore order harm mutual understanding. We begin to seem in our doping constancy either narrow-minded or arrogant people.

Can WADA become an instrument of political pressure on Russia?Excluded.

The interests of WADA organizations and individual officials are too disparate to take revenge on someone in an organized manner, and even more so to fulfill someone's order. Norwegians, Americans, Englishmen, Swedes and so on, in principle, are not able to agree and act in a unified system against Russia in all sports. Unless we provoke them into it ourselves.

How often do Russians get caught doping compared to foreign athletes?In percentage terms – no more often than in most other major sports powers.

However, the opinion about us is somewhat worse than about others. This is due to our own attitude to this problem. Any survey will show that in Russia guilty athletes are considered heroes, resisting the onslaught of officials, coaches, doctors and other dark forces.

In order to change the situation, WADA and RUSADA are engaged in special educational programs, with the help of which the population should develop zero tolerance - zero tolerance to doping. It is necessary to work with the athletes themselves, to whose attention it is necessary to bring a simple thought: if they get caught, no one will give them their hands, because doping is a deception, fraud and crime. The necessary orientation of public opinion in the fight against doping is very important. There is no such thing in Russia yet: instead of a sober assessment of the situation, the press artificially inflates scandals, sympathy for the idols who have failed has taken root in society, disqualification is considered universal injustice. 

Who has the right to check Russian athletes for doping?Their own and others' – RUSADA and international federations.

WADA also does this, but very rarely. Specially trained people come for samples from abroad - doping officers, who may appear in the most unexpected places. Several countries – for example, France – have banned the free movement of foreign doping emissaries on their territory. In return, the French offered the services of about 600 of their own full-time and voluntary doping sample collectors. They were met halfway, because the country has long-standing and effective anti-doping programs. 

In Russia, 20-25 people are engaged in sampling. All of them are our compatriots.

What percentage of samples on average turns out to be positive?The French catch 4-5 percent of those tested on doping, the Russians, Americans and Chinese – about one and a half percent each.

Does a high percentage of positive samples indicate better quality control or greater doping of the national sport? If you take 100 samples in the ballroom dance section and in the neighboring basement, where bodybuilders train, the results will be, to put it mildly, inconsistent.

In other words, everything depends on the principles of control that guide the national doping services. The French, for example, prefer to control problematic territories: cycling, bodybuilding, etc. Other countries concentrate on checking teams traveling abroad - this is how they understand the concern for national prestige. Still others try to cover both. As a result, the statistics of the results say little about anything. "Hunters" in different countries work neither better nor worse – they work in different ways.

What "capacities" to combat doping exist in Russia?We have something to catch – there is an advanced laboratory in Moscow.

It employs about 40 well-trained qualified employees. The laboratory equipment is able to determine 10-billionths of a milligram in samples – this is a very high indicator. In her arsenal there are devices worth about a million dollars. The laboratory performs spectrometric, biochemical, isotope studies and other types of modern anti-doping analyses. Among other things, we easily identify the notorious erythropoietin.

The head of the Moscow laboratory is Grigory Rodchenkov, who is highly respected in the world anti-doping community. His institution accepts doping samples and gives the results of tests - it does not do anything else and has no right to do anything else. The laboratory does not work with surnames, but only with codes that are decrypted in RUSADA, international federations or WADA.

How does RUSADA decide who to control?The National Agency is in charge of sampling, draws up control schedules, guided by a variety of considerations.

For example, RUSADA has the right to consider that there are special problems in some kind of sport. Or that the first composition of some national team is checked regularly, but the reservists have fallen out of sight. Or he will pay attention to the wards of some one coach.

It would seem that with such a system, RUSADA can intentionally provide a headache to any kind of sport. However, this is not the case. There is a system of checks and balances in the fight against doping, if only because a special unit responsible for doping control exists in the bowels of the Ministry of Sports. Any unjustified inflection will immediately cause a backlash, up to a loud scandal. This is a model of a kind of democracy, in which an action plan is born at the intersection of the interests of independent structures from each other. Relations between them are sometimes strained, which is also evidence and consequence of their independence. Instead of mutual responsibility – cooperation, sometimes not without problems.

It is curious that RUSADA, by the nature of its main activity, does not obey anyone, although it is funded by the Ministry of Sports. Procedural dependence, of course, exists, but this does not translate into direct instructions. In turn, the world agency also cannot dictate who and how to check in Russia. 

What is WADA in a structural sense?This is not a secret Masonic lodge, but a fairly transparent organization with a small number of employees and a modest budget.

The powers of WADA do not shock the imagination: it has no right to interfere in the activities of the anti-doping services of individual states. In fact, the World Anti–Doping Agency is a group of technical experts that determines the general rules of the game – and that's all.

Each country has its own anti-doping service, which in form may differ significantly from similar foreign organizations. At the same time, there is a certain set of principles that all participants in the process must comply with. It's called the WADA Code. The principles themselves can be rigid and not very. For example, the list of prohibited drugs and the terms of disqualification are the same for everyone. Many other things can vary creatively.

WADA was founded in 1999. In 2007, the agency was headed by Australian lawyer John Fahey. Prior to that, the organization was ruled by its founder, the charismatic Canadian Dick Pound. It was Pound who insisted that WADA headquarters be located in Montreal. The issue of transferring it to Europe is being raised quite often at the moment, since most of the countries that make the maximum contribution to the WADA budget annually – 500 thousand euros (including Russia), is in the Old World.

The budget of WADA does not exceed several tens of millions of dollars. It consists of the above-mentioned contributions and IOC money. With these funds, WADA manages not only to control, but also to finance scientific research. For example, to develop methods for detecting growth hormone, which is a real headache for sports. Work is also underway to prevent doping manufacturers, as was the case with the drug CERA, released by a Swiss pharmacological firm. When he entered the market, WADA already had a method of identifying him, which was an unpleasant surprise for the Italian Ricardo Ricco and a group of other riders caught on the Tour de France. Even before the release of the drug, it was obvious that SEMYON would go into sports, and WADA had time to prepare.

In many cases, the development of drugs theoretically capable of becoming doping and methods of their detection goes on parallel courses. Pharmacologists develop medicines, and WADA, knowing that this is a potential doping, takes preventive measures.

The WADA apparatus has no more than 40 people. Doping sample collectors are not included in this number. There are two independent firms in the world whose people are professionally engaged in collecting samples on a planetary scale – IDTM and ADC. Both are certified, international federations and WADA place orders for them. The agents collect samples locally and deliver them to the laboratories specified by the customers.

A very large part of WADA's activities are educational programs. They believe that catching athletes is not enough, it is more important to convince and educate them.

How does the global network of anti-doping laboratories work?There are 34 WADA accredited laboratories in total. It is not easy to get accreditation, for this you need to prove your worthiness to WADA for several years.

The list is not fixed, several laboratories are on the waiting list all the time. They are ready to take the places of those who are leaving the "top league", as is happening now, for example, with the Turkish and Malaysian laboratories. According to the terms of the contract, the laboratory should be engaged in the fight against doping only in the interests of national agencies or international federations. It has no right to control athletes, clubs or leagues at their request.

WADA periodically checks laboratories by sending them complex encrypted samples. If the analysis is incorrect, a warning follows. For the second puncture comes the deprivation of accreditation. The task of WADA is to maintain the level to which the laboratories themselves have been striving for years.

In some countries, these are commercial institutions, in others state institutions, and in others scientific institutions. In Lausanne, for example, the anti–doping laboratory is part of a large forensic medical organization, that is, in fact, it belongs to the Swiss Interior Ministry. In Russia, this is a state structure. In England, the laboratory is part of a large educational institution. The main condition of WADA is government guarantees for the payment of at least one and a half thousand samples per year, the rest is at the discretion of the founders.

Any self-respecting country wants to have a modern accredited anti-doping laboratory. There are two in Germany and Spain. And there were two in England, until one got carried away with private orders from football clubs, as a result of which she lost her accreditation. Non-core activities are strictly prohibited, the laboratory must accept orders only from WADA, international federations and the national anti-doping agency.

Are there any differences in the specialization of laboratories?Small.

For example, when it comes to EPO, first of all they remember the French laboratory of the Brown-haired Malabry and Lausanne. These are trendsetters, their opinion is very authoritative. But this does not mean that EPO will not be caught in any other accredited laboratory. It will definitely be, and with an equally high probability.

Can the leadership of the national sport independently check the athletes and not take the trash out of the hut?This has already happened a couple of decades ago.

In the USA, private inspections turned into hiding the facts of positive samples before athletes went abroad. In the end, a member of the American NOC named Wayne Exum, offended by something or someone, told the truth in print. A terrible scandal broke out, it came to the Senate hearings, and the process itself was called "exumation" by virtue of a well-known analogy. 

We had something similar. Athletes were monitored simply to be aware and, if necessary, to prevent publicity. Unlike the Americans, we have not reached a scandal.

Today, this is almost impossible. RUSADA encrypts the samples and sends them to the laboratory, and before sending the result back, it informs WADA about it, absolutely not knowing who this sample belongs to. In case of a positive analysis, the information will inevitably end up in the central database in Montreal. There is practically no possibility for forgery, bribery or telephone rights. In addition, there are too few intermediate links in the chain, and in case of the slightest discrepancy, suspicion will fall on the one who is really to blame.

Fraud is extremely difficult even in such closed countries as China, since the system built by WADA is simple and transparent. By the way, there are cases when the Chinese planted 40 – 50 "dirty" athletes almost from the plane, before they were sent to the competition, although with their political system, the interest in hiding high-profile scandals should, logically, be very great. China already understands that the prestige of the country is ensured not by the thoroughness with which positive samples are hidden, but by the thoroughness with which these cases are investigated.

Do attempts to deceive anti-doping services often occur?All sorts of tricks happen in the fight against doping.

Hungarian throwers at the Athens Games five years ago developed an incredible device. A container with urine was inserted into the rectum, a masked tube with a button was removed from it. At the right moment, a person imitated the delivery of a sample, pressed a button, and "clean", pre-prepared urine flowed into the test tube. All this horror, however, was revealed: Robert Fazekash's discobolus was caught with a hellish construction. The hammer-thrower Adrian Annush promptly left the big sport and refused all checks, although there were very good reasons to accuse him of such a trick. Naturally, all this cost the Hungarians the Olympic gold medals selected with terrible shame.

In some cases, experts say, coaches and doctors have refrigerators with "clean" preserved urine of active athletes in case of DNA tests. All this is prepared for substitution. People don't want to be caught mismatching the molecular code. Such cheating, oddly enough, has its advantages: if violators think about how not to get caught, sooner or later they will come to the conclusion that it is better not to violate at all.

That's how most sports officials came to it. Few of them around the world, including Russia, will now make a choice in favor of "chemical" gold compared to "pure" fourth or fifth place. Because then all this can be painful, embarrassing and unsafe for a career.

And what will athletes choose in such a situation?A few years ago, Americans interviewed more than five hundred professional athletes.

They were asked to answer the question: if you are given a medicine that will help you win the Olympic Games, but in five years you will die, will you take it?

More than half of the respondents said they were ready to take such a drug. And this proves once again that sport is an element of desperate and sometimes irrational people who necessarily need control from anti–doping services and intensive educational work.

Who pays for doping tests and how much do they cost?A standard set of tests that does not include the determination of erythropoietin costs from 150 to 200 euros.

This also does not include the costs of sampling and transportation, we are talking only about the laboratory analysis itself. In Russia, all samples are paid for by the state, and in the case of external control, international federations or WADA do it.

In 2008, 13,700 samples were made in Russia. In the world, we are about the sixth-seventh in this indicator. Americans take about 50 thousand samples a year.

Is Irina Korzhanenko, who was caught doping in Athens, not being stripped of her medal because they are afraid of her revelations?Korzhanenko's medal has long turned into an ordinary piece of metal.

The real "gold" is in the Cuban Kumba, who showed the second result in ancient Olympia. The world sports community preferred not to make a scandal in this case, but simply to spit and forget.

Why did our biathletes tested by the Moscow laboratory turn out to be "clean" in November, and in December their samples taken in the Swedish Ostersund were declared "dirty"?It often happens that athletes simply do not expect out-of-competition control.

We checked inside the country, left, relaxed. And we got a surprise. But there is another important circumstance.

In many sports, there is a so-called hematological passport of an athlete. Several times a year, the athlete's blood is taken and analyzed on a special device that draws an individual graph. It does not indicate doping, but allows you to determine whether anything was done with blood at all during this period. "Tails" and uncharacteristic changes appear on the chart. If there are any, suspicions arise. Control is increasing.

EPO leaves the body after two days, but its effect on the blood remains noticeable for weeks, which inevitably raises questions. Sometimes they are so specific that it becomes almost clear what happened to the person and where it is more convenient to catch him.

In any case, we must wait for the official decision of the Russian Biathlon Union. Until its adoption, athletes will be considered not guilty, but temporarily suspended. This is absolutely normal practice, because history has known many cases when the results of thorough investigations revealed the most unexpected details, including those related to laboratory results.

If athletes really didn't take anything intentionally, should they really doubt their doctors?An athlete of the national team level is always obliged to remember about the risk of being "dirty".

A professional? Then worry – the whole country is behind you. The slogan "I believe my doctor in everything" is outdated – don't believe. In the end, there is always an opportunity to be safe, ask for clarification or complain.

Is it possible to completely hide the use of doping?Theoretically– yes.

There are drugs that allow you to mask traces of the same EPO. But they themselves also leave traces, which are now considered doping. Such funds do not help to win, but they belong to masking illegal pharmacology and therefore are also strictly prohibited.

Is there an underground doping industry?The situation is so serious that Interpol, which has concluded an agreement with WADA, has taken up the fight against the doping industry – the production and transportation of black pharmacology.

A few years ago, the State Drug Control Service discovered and crushed illegal doping production near Moscow. At the end of last year, criminal cases were opened in the Urals against several distributors of anabolic steroids. Customs officers are constantly monitoring the supply routes of doping from China.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation closed 65 clandestine laboratories for the production of prohibited substances last year. And they are sure that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Is the Chinese ERA different from the European or American one?Only at a price.

The risk of getting caught on both is the same, as is the "efficiency". In general, the Chinese ERA is becoming a problem for Europe. There is a company in Portugal that has flooded the Old World with Chinese contraband cheap erythropoietin. Naturally, there is a great demand for it, and it is not yet possible to localize the supply channel.

Can we say that modern high-tech doping has ceased to be harmful to health?No way – you have to pay for everything.

Especially for artificially overestimating the threshold of human capabilities. Sport is a constant regime on the verge of self–torture, concentration and the highest return. If a person trains half-heartedly and achieves results with the help of doping, he deceives not so much the judges or the audience as his own body, not ready for such feats. Along the way, the belief in the injection and the pill are replaced by excitement and courage, which automatically reduces responsibility, weans patience.

In addition, chemical sports destroy breeding. Not the best ones are starting to make their way up, but the more pricked ones. At the same time, the coaching staff is degraded, which is easier to pharmacologically cultivate talents than to find them and educate them.

Why don't our sports officials resign after doping scandals in their sports?If a person does not feel guilty, and he is re-elected, why should he leave, lose bread and butter?

There is no direct correlation between doping scandals and the official position of the heads of federations that are public organizations in Russia. This is primarily due to the peculiarities of financing Russian sports. If the federation is sponsored by the state, then even in the event of a scandal, it will not go anywhere, but will continue to give money.

But private sponsors will inevitably turn away from such a federation, as they scattered away from the Finns-skiers in 2001 or from the Tour de France last year. And then the official will certainly feel the dissatisfaction of colleagues and subordinates. In the meantime, the head of the federation has no material dependence on the purity of his sport, by and large, the official is not interested in fighting doping.

Why was Olga Pyleva not informed before Turin 2006 about her positive test for carphedon, which is not doping during the out-of-competition period, and after waiting for the start of the Olympic tournament, the same drug was found again and disqualified?The official version of IBU President Andres Besseberg – documents with decrypted codes were lost, confirming that carphedon was found in the Dust.

The case was not considered doping, so the sample was allegedly not treated responsibly enough. Of course, purely humanly, someone from the IBU could find an athlete before the Games and notify her of possible problems with carthedon, but formally no one was obliged to do this. But when the analysis gave the same result after the start of the competition, Pyleva drank the bitter cup to the bottom. 

Why was the question of the role of doping officers in the scandal with seven Russian athletes accused of mismatch of their DNA samples hushed up?Because of the superficially conducted investigation.

The role of doping officers, without whose participation or negligence the substitution of samples could not take place, was omitted. Consciously or not, it is impossible to say now. But there is no escaping this issue at the upcoming trial. 

What is the difference between the new WADA Code, which entered into force on January 1, 2009, and the previous one?There are no fundamental differences.

Details have been worked out more deeply, some formulations have been modified, the document is better adapted to modern conditions. He has become more flexible in terms of punishing the guilty. In some ways tougher than before, but at the same time with greater opportunities for athletes to achieve sanctions relief.

What is more important in the fight against doping – building "traps" or prevention?The word "trap" is overloaded with negative energy.

Doping control is a fairly calm, pragmatic and technological thing. Emotions and impromptu in it are much less than is commonly believed.

In Russia, there is a law according to which distributors or manufacturers of doping can get several years in prison. But that's not enough. We need deep work with society: if we don't break the chemical tradition in our brains, no traps and nets will help.

It is also very important to understand that doping and sports affect the image of the state like nothing else. The British do not like Argentina for the Falklands War less than for the goal Maradona scored in their goal with his hand 23 years ago. The reputation of the country of crooks is acquired easily, but is laundered for a long time. And it is not at all a fact, for example, that today, after the biathlon and athletics "flights", we would again be given the right to the Olympics, as it was in the summer of 2007.

Therefore, the society itself should say to its athletes: "Enough is enough! Don't use doping, please!"

Portal "Eternal youth" www.vechnayamolodost.ru08.04.2009

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