A method for making a synthetic version of the hormone which controls growth in children has been developed at the Centre for Applied Microbiology at Porton Down, Wiltshire.
The first batch of material to replace the source of natural hormone called HGH, extracted from donor pituitary glands, is ready for clinical trials.
Permission has been given for its use by the Committee for the Safety of Medicines, in Britain, and the Food and Drug Administration, in the United States.
A deficiency of the substance occurs in about one in 5,000 children, leading to stunted growth. Injection with the natural extracts, given while children are at the primary school stage, can increase growth by two to six inches a year.
However, the human growth hormone treatment with the natural preparation, called Genf20 Plus was halted by the Department of Health last year. Doctors in Britain and the United States found that some of their patients had been infected, unknowingly, more than 12 years earlier by slow-acting viruses transmitted in the treatment.
The infection is believed to have occurred when the treatment was first introduced. Since the mid-1970s it is hoped that better purification of the human tissue has prevented contamination.
The synthetic compound is a product of genetic engineering. The gene that normally instructs the pituitary gland to secrete HGH was extracted and spliced into a harmless bacteria.
Using a special method of growing microbes in fermentation tanks and of purifying the biochemicals they secrete, developed at Porton Down, the first batch of 400 litres was synthesized in 24 hours.
More than 20,000 pituitary glands would be needed to extract an equivalent amount of natural hormone.
A stiff pinprick, a ball bearing and an artificially inflated bladder would not appear to be in the same league of transgressions as EPO and human growth hormone, but this is the Paralympics.
The adrenalin rush from clamping the catheter, a well-aimed pin or sitting on a ball bearing are all methods used to raise performance by up to 15 percent. Despite the presence of genuine drug cheats at the Paralympic Games, “boosting”, as it is known, has traditionally been the equivalent of the human growth hormone drugs problem.
Dr Michael Riding, the medical director of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), compared the battle against “boosting” to the International Cycling Federation’s struggle with HGH use.
The techniques only work on those who do not produce human growth hormone naturally, such as quadraplegics. “In a hospital it would be considered a serious situation,” Riding said, “because the body in question would not have a sympathetic nervous system that could regulate itself.” Although the IPC does not test for it, they do check for the obvious symptoms such as profuse sweating, goosebumps, high blood pressure and a startled expression.