From July to August, the world's attention was drawn to the London Olympics to watch more than 10 500 athletes from 204 national Olympic committees compete. Behind the scenes, 150 scientists were ready and testing up to 400 samples every day for more than 240 prohibited substances. Their efforts were based on the results of the Growth Hormone-2004 (GH-2004) team which developed a test for growth hormone misuse in sport, with funding from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and US Anti-Doping Agency, and with support from UK Anti-Doping.
Their test helped crack down on drug cheats in sports, and was praised by officials such as WADA President John Fahey, who commented: 'The new test — which has been approved by WADA — was first introduced prior to the London 2012 Olympic Games, and we are confident that it will prove a significant tool in the fight against doping in sport. It will complement the test that has been in use since the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the major difference being that the anti-doping community now has a much longer detection window to work with.'
The GH-2004 team based their current work on past research from the GH-2000 team, which was mainly funded by the European Union under the Biomed 2 Programme and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The current test, which was developed by scientists at the University of Southampton, King's College London and the University of Kent at Canterbury, is based on the measurement of two proteins in the blood: insulin-like growth factor-I, and the amino terminal pro-peptide of type III collagen. Both of these proteins, which act as markers of growth hormone use, increase in response to growth hormone.
The test was used at the anti-doping laboratory for the London 2012 Olympic as well as at the Paralympic Games, where on 8 September 2012, the International Paralympic Committee announced that two powerlifters had received two-year suspensions for anti-doping rule violations involving growth hormone. The ruling came following an adverse laboratory finding by King’s College London analysts at the anti-doping laboratory using the new markers test.
This case created another kind of Olympic record, a world first in fact, as some of the testing methods utilised by the analysts were only introduced prior to London 2012. The new method was able to detect misuse of human growth hormone over a number of weeks, compared to previous methods used, which only detected use over a shorter time period.
For some of the researchers, the effectiveness of their testing was a validation of their work. 'These findings prove that the years of research have been worthwhile. In partnership with the University of Southampton and Kent University, this has been one of the most complex scientific projects the Drug Control Centre at King's has been involved in. To be able to carry out this test at this year's Games is a huge achievement. It represents a big step forward in staying at the forefront of anti-doping science, to help deter drug misuse in sport,' said Professor David Cowan, Head of the Drug Control Centre at King's College London and Director of the anti-doping laboratory for the 2012 Games.
Andy Parkinson, UK Anti-Doping chief executive, emphasised that the work done by the analysts not only found doping in sport, but also acted as a deterrent: 'Continual improvement in testing science is fundamental to the global anti-doping movement, ensuring that sophisticated dopers are caught and those at a tipping point are deterred. I am delighted that this UK-developed test, which my team has been closely involved with, was used at the 2012 Paralympic Games to such good effect.'
Richard Holt, professor in Diabetes and Endocrinology at the University of Southampton and also a diabetes consultant at Southampton General Hospital, said, 'We are pleased to have another effective and reliable means to catch cheats and help deter harmful drug misuse. There has been a tremendous amount of teamwork to develop this test and I am delighted that this dedication has finally succeeded. I would like to thank the World Anti-Doping Agency, US Anti-Doping and UK Anti-Doping for their support and trust in our work.'