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'Perfect' anti-doping test in sight

A Glasgow-based professor is on the brink of a breakthrough that could revolutionise anti-doping in sport.

Dr Yannis Pitsiladis is on the verge of developing a foolproof way of identifying drugs cheats
Dr Yannis Pitsiladis is on the verge of developing a foolproof way of identifying drugs cheats

Dr Yannis Pitsiladis believes a foolproof drug test can be developed by looking for evidence of doping within an athlete's cellular anatomy, rather than seeking to detect a prohibited substance in their body, which is the focus of current anti-doping methods.

He has spent more than a decade at Glasgow University researching the effect genetics have on athletic success but his most recent project, if successful, will change dope-testing in sport for ever.

Pitsiladis, born in Australia but of Greek origin, is being funded by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) to develop a test which can detect the use of the banned drug EPO even weeks after the substance has left an athlete's body.

"The tests we are developing are based not on finding the drug itself but actually discovering what the drug is doing, which is much harder," Pitsiladis said. "At the same time, if it works, it is nearly impossible to tamper with."

EPO increases the production of red blood cells. Its use allows an athlete to transport more oxygen around their body which, in turn, improves their endurance capacity.

Pitsiladis is looking for "genetic expression" which proves the use of EPO and describes his findings so far as "the most exciting data of his career". The 46-year-old has already developed a test which can conclusively prove the use of larger doses of EPO and is in the process of researching whether the same effects occur when athletes administer micro-doses of the drug.

When only tiny amounts of the prohibited substance are injected into an athlete, it makes for a form of doping that is difficult to detect with current testing methods.

That is why Pitsiladis is so fervent that his new method could be so significant. "This has to be the way forward because a lot of these drugs are out of your system almost as soon as you've taken them," he said. Pitsiladis is confident the new method of anti-doping will not be confined to detecting a single substance, though.

He said: "The idea is that this technology should not only be used for identifying EPO use but also for other difficult to detect drugs like growth hormone, testosterone and cortisol."

Asked if this could be the perfect drug test, Pitsiladis replied: "I can't think of a better one," he said.

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