15 Jul 2013

Otago uni developing better anti-doping test

9:50 am on 15 July 2013

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has asked a group of New Zealand researchers to come up with an improved test to detect the use of a performance-enhancing hormone by athletes.

Erythropoietin (EPO) was used by disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong to help him win the Tour de France seven times.

The agency's director general, David Howman, says among drug cheats, EPO is the most common form of doping, mainly due to the fact it is difficult to detect and in many cases, not even tested for.

The agency contracted Otago University to come up with a more sensitive test for EPO based around a molecule researchers there have already discovered which rises and falls depending on the use of the hormone.

Medical researcher Chris Pemberton says he was motivated to develop an improved test when he was told by cyclists they thought it was acceptable to use it.

Mr Pemberton says half of them thought it was legitimate to use EPO.

He says he was "annoyed" that they thought it was OK to take the hormone.

"But if you are taking it, we'll catch you," he says.

He says current tests pick up just 60% of cheating athletes and he hopes the new test will have a 100% success rate.

Mr Pemberton says the molecule will first be tested on non-athletes with trials on athletes possible after that.

Mr Howman says if the trials all go to plan, the test could be in place in time for the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.