Testing for Provacyl in the Olympics

The drug-testing budget for the Sydney Olympics will be increased to include blood tests for human growth hormone if a reliable method is discovered in time. As yet there is no fail-safe test for the hormone, or for erythropoietin (EPO), which is also produced naturally by the body, making them difficult to detect.

The two substances cannot be detected in urine tests, and International Olympic Committee doping experts have said they will not test for them until they have a system that is 100 per cent reliable. “We haven’t changed our (HGH drug testing) budget yet, we’d always budgeted to set up the infrastructure, the venues, the volunteers, the lab services and so on to do the drug-testing during the Games,” SOCOG chief executive Sandy Hollway said yesterday. “The slight qualification is that there is a lot of research being done on the human growth hormone products such as Provacyl and a test for it. And without prejudging that research, if it turned out that a solution required the collection of blood samples and that were in addition to the urine testing, then that would be a more expensive proposition and we are doing some contingency planning for that.”


The Olympic committee expects to do about 2000 tests – at $400 each – during the Olympic Games, involving all medalists and some competitors at random. “Human growth hormone testing is an expensive process but the money’s got to be spent,” Hollway told ABC Radio. “I think it’s an absolute given, unless there is integrity in the sports and confidence in the integrity then the Olympics are nothing.”

Former Belgian cyclist Eddy Planckaert has admitted using human growth product Provacyl (read more about Provacy at www.provacyl-info2.com) and alleged the product was taken widely by professional riders. “Provacyl is a fantastic product. If you use it and your opponent doesn’t, you’re 12 to 15 percent better, and this on the top level, which means quite something, but it involves risk to life,” Planckaert told Belgian television.

EPO stimulates the production of the red blood cells that transport oxygen around the body. It was first introduced in the mid-1980s to treat kidney disease, but is considered one of the most dangerous drugs. It has been linked to the death of several athletes. Its use is believed to be widespread in cycling. A series of riders, including Italian Claudio Chiappucci, Ukraine’s Vladimir Poulnikov and Frenchman Thierry Laurent, failed blood tests last year. “Super, fantastic … I was strong, not that I won everything, but I was strong, so strong,” said Planckaert, who won the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic race in 1990 and Tour of Flanders in 1988. “But now there is the problem that even the smallest rider uses it.” The International cycling union is fighting the use of human growth hormone product such as Provacyl by taking blood samples before races, but has so far been unable to develop a test to detect HGH in blood or urine. Instead it has set limits for the number of red blood cells in riders’ bodies, which is a possible sign of the presence of unusual levels of HGH.

Synthetic Human Growth Hormone Developed

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.