Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oops, Department: The EPO test is broken

Today the IHT reported on a study that showed blind samples from EPO users didn't turn up positives at a number of WADA laboratories.

The cited study was to determine what PED effects EPO had, and turned up unsurprisingly significant gains for endurance events. While doing those studies, they also sent some samples from the subjects to WADA labs.

[W]ithout telling the anti-doping labs what they were doing, the investigators sent the men's urine samples for EPO testing.

One of the two labs, which the researchers refer to as Lab B in their paper, never declared any sample positive, even when the men were taking high doses of EPO every other day. Lab A was inconsistent. It found EPO during the high dose phase. But in the maintenance phase, it found EPO in only 6 of the 16 samples.

The omnipresent Don Catlin raises an eyebrow:

"The paper certainly is an eye-opener," said Don Catlin, the chief executive of Anti-Doping Research, a nonprofit group in Los Angeles. "It's quite remarkable."

The article notes only 9 of 2600 samples sent to a US WADA lab turned up positives. It might or might not be the UCLA laboratory of which Catlin was formerly the director -- when the EPO test developed by the LNDD was rolled out.

WADA predictably circled the wagons.

But Olivier Rabin, scientific director of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said his group had tested its labs, sending samples of urine from people who were taking EPO and from people who were not. In general, he said, the labs agreed. But Rabin added that when the agency sends samples to its labs, they are not sent anonymously — the lab knows the samples are from WADA.

The agency does not share data from the tests on its labs, so it was not possible to determine how the organization's research compared with the latest study.

Caustic remarks come from other experts:

The findings in the latest study should be no surprise, said Charles Yesalis, a professor of sports science at Pennsylvania State University. For decades, he said, anti-doping authorities have claimed they have tests that work and for decades athletes have been taking drugs without getting caught.

The anti-doping authorities, he said, "remind me of little boys whistling in the graveyard."

We note then, that when the ADA's do get what they think is a positive test, they rub their hands in glee and say, "We got one!"

Any marine creature that is caught by this net is going to get gutted, because the fisherman are desperate while they talking up what a good job they are doing with their targeted, out of competition testing.

On reading this report, many potential competitors in Beijing will be saying, "Game on!"


Unknown said...

One of their most important tests doesn't work? Shocking, I tell you. Shocking.

If you ask me, this, along with the judge's rebuke from the Gatlin case (even if undone on jurisdiction, not the merits) should make everyone a serious skeptic when it comes to the anti-doping authorities. As the Olympics approach and more pressure is being put on the system, is the whole facade beginning to come apart at the seams?

When is the media finally going to adopt the narrative that the system is broken?


Thomas A. Fine said...

How many times are we going to repeat this pattern before someone recognizes that tests bests on subtle differentiations are doomed to failure in a system as complex as the human body?

This is a also good time to remind everyone of the statistics. As false negatives increase, the odds of a positive turning out to be false also increase.


JR said...

This snippet is from an old Swimming World (2002). I talked to Murray in the late '80s about his frustrations with the IOC and USOC. Shameful. I do hope that someone will really investigate the sports industrial complex.

"(In the past, the IOC, especially, has dragged its feet. In the case of EPO, the IOC deliberately killed a promising proposal by American scientist Allen K. Murray to develop an EPO test, instead funding an unpromising proposal by Italian Francesco Conconi. What makes this particularly outrageous is that Conconi, a member of the IOC Medical Commission, has been implicated in providing EPO to Italian athletes. Nothing ever became of Conconi's project-in fact, he allegedly never even bothered to write a report on what he did with the IOC's research grant. Eventually, when the threat of EPO became overwhelming, the IOC got serious and supported successful Australian tests.)"

Eric WInter said...

Thomas, why should false positives increase when false negatives increase? The methodology is developed with a paramount goal being to eliminate false positives. False negatives do not ruin careers.