Sunday, July 08, 2012

Got a feeling (Musings on blood doping)

Last updated 10 July 2012

This blog's idea arose because the Olympics is almost upon us (2012 London Olympics, 27 July - 12 August) and there is much talk about the latest laboratory tests to detect cheats. 

Moreover, this year Big Pharma is involved with much fanfare and the specific giant pharmaceutical company (GlaxoSmithKline) has been in the news recently for quite a different reason (more below).

The title comes from a song by the US / Canadian group, The Mamas and Papas.

The London Olympics has revived news about drug cheats and blood doping, e.g., How do the sports compare.

Blood doping has also been in the news because Lance Armstrong, 7-time Tour de France winner is charged with doping by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Blood doping boosts the number of RBC to enhance athletic performance and is rampant in endurance sports such as long-distance cycling and cross-country skiing. It's been done using erythropoietin (EPO), homologous and autologous blood transfusions. Autologous blood doping has been hard to detect because dopers receive their own red cells.

As long as sports is big business with mega-bucks on the line for winners, cheating will exist. Cheating at the Olympics seems particularly odious given Olympic values.

But winning a Gold Medal is often worth $millions to athletes in commercial endorsements and sponsorships.
In contrast, the money that some athletes earn from their countries is small change.
Canada is late to the game and a cheapskate:

But the $millions in endorsements help explain why some athletes cheat and risk detection, e.g., Canada's sprinter Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and whose physique revealed all.

As to professional athletes like US baseball slugger Barry Bonds,  you only need to look at their physiques, especially before and after photos to know who the steroid cheats are, as well as the 'steroid rage' that some players exhibit. 

Same with USA NFL football. Some of those dudes look loaded with steroids or human growth hormone and tests should detect the cheats. Also see

As a soccer fan (aka football outside NA), I've wondered if players take performance enhancing drugs but evidence suggests otherwiseespecially for players like Fernando Torres, whose physique hardly screams performance enhancers like steroids or HGH. 

Not necessarily true for 'recreational drugs' like cocaine, though. With young footballers earning mega-millions in salaries and sponsorships, it's bound to happen.
But back to The Olympics. The London Olympics will showcase the ongoing battle between the cheats and those who aim to catch them.
It turns out that laboratory equipment for the new Olympics testing facility was supplied by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) at a cost of £20 million:
This King's College London site features complimentary words on GSK by David Cowan, Director of the College's Drug Control Centre and a video by GSK:
Here's the top boffin explaining a term that many countries have implemented to help prevent cheating:
Interestingly, GSK was in the news last week for a very different reason, settling the largest health care fraud case ever:

...[GSK]... admitted to misbranding the antidepressants ...and marketing them for uses not approved by the ... FDA, including the treatment of children for depression and the treatment of ailments such as obesity, anxiety, addiction and ADHD.
In some cases, the company did so despite warnings about possible safety risks from the FDA, such as an increased risk of suicide for children under 18 taking antidepressants.
It also admitted in the settlement that it did not provide the FDA with safety information that indicated its diabetes drug ...might cause heart problems. The drug was eventually pulled off the shelves in Europe and its sale restricted in the U.S.
Its CEO says GSK instituted reforms & learned from its mistakes. 
Seems everything is spin and PR these days, certainly in politics, but also in the world of Big Pharma. Good publicity from Olympics testing lab will help put a shine on GSK and erase last week's deadly headlines about the company's incredible, unethical proven past actions.

Bottom Line
As a bloodbanker I especially hope that autologous blood doping can be stopped. And as a football / soccer fan, whose players run up and down the pitch for 90+ minutes, I hope that none are into blood doping or other cheating.

But I've got a feeling....

How I feel when my sports heroes are caught out by drug tests:
  • Got a Feeling (Mamas and Papas) Somewhat ironic as this group, whose songs I love, were into drugs as were many in the 1960s.
  • Dancing in the Street (Because I like the song and Mama Cass's voice, and it's summer in the northern hemisphere)
As always, the views are mine alone. Comments are most welcome BUT, due to excessive spam,  please e-mail me personally or use the address in the newsletter notice.