Thursday, June 26, 2008

EPO tests are unreliable, study shows

A while back I wrote about the questionable science behind last year's decision that 2006 Tour de France winner, Floyd Landis, was guilty of doping with testosterone. Now, two new studies shows that the tests used to catch illegal dopers are unreliable at best.

In a study released today, researchers doped men with EPO and collected urine samples from them. The samples were tested by two labs accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). One lab found samples positive for EPO when they were actually negative, and negative when they were actually positive. The other lab didn't find any of the samples to be positive. Perhaps even worse, the two labs did not agree on the test results. This means the lab tests are bogus and a person deemed to be positive for EPO doping may just as well be innocent.

In the second study, which came out last month, researchers found that many men --Asians especially-- have a genetic mutation that allows them to dope with testosterone but test negative on the test used at the Olympics and the Tour de France.

It's important to note that a WADA-accredited lab in France did the initial testing on Landis' samples. If the WADA lab is using tests that are unreliable, their credibility is in question, especially after their sloppy procedures came to light in the Landis case. At the very least, WADA should make an effort to determine if the tests they use are unreliable or inaccurate. But once again, as it did in Landis' case, WADA has shown itself to be less interested in good science and more interested in blind dogma. According to the New York Times, WADA dismissed the study's findings:
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.

It's unconsciounable that WADA's scientific director isn't concerned that the tests used by his labs may be implicating innocent people and letting the guilty go undetected. The only fair conclusion is the agency is less concerned about catching dopers and more interested in playing politics.

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