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By VeloNews Interactive
The doctor who developed the means to detect the performance-enhancer EPO conceded Tuesday that the test is largely ineffective as it is currently being used and can’t detect newer versions of the drug that may already be in use in the peloton.
Following the arrest of the wife of Lithuanian cyclist Raimondas Rumsas, third in this year’s Tour de France, for possession of doping products including corticoids, testosterone and EPO, two questions have been asked – whether the cyclist was doped and if so how four doping controls all produced negative results.
Dr. Francoise Lasne, who jointly developed the test to distinguish between natural erythropoietin (EPO) and the banned synthetic version, admitted that using the test during a competition even as long as the Tour was simply doing too little, too late.
“The tests to detect EPO were negative because they were wrongly used,” Lasne told the French wire service AFP.
EPO stimulates red blood cell production and is normally produced by the kidney. Using an artificial form of EPO allows athletes to boost the number of red blood cells, thus delivering more oxygen to hard-working muscles, boosting an athlete’s strength and endurance.
Lasne said that cyclists know that it takes 10 days to build red blood cells which then live between 60 and 130 days. With Lasne’s test, the window for detection is between four to seven days after injection.
“To succeed you have to be able to do the tests before the competition,” said Lasne.
Organizers of competitions do not test before the event because such a procedure would be cumbersome as riders train in different countries.
Lasne said that the test was not able to detect all forms of EPO. There are now five different forms of EPO, the alpha and beta, the two oldest with which the test was developed, and three others – the omega, NESP and delta, which is also called dynepo.
“Our test detects the omega and NESP with no problem and it should also locate the delta but we can’t be totally sure because of legal proceedings between pharmaceutical laboratories we couldn’t test it,” said Lasne.
One difficulty Lasne expects to encounter is the release of a new version of erythropoietin developed by a competitor of Amgen, the maker of Epogen, the original form of the drug. The new version gets around Amgen’s original patents and is much closer to human erythropoietin than its predecessor, making it far more difficult to detect.
The Australian Institute for Sport developed a blood test that allows detection of all forms of exogenous EPO for a longer period of time. However, during the review process of the test, it produced a false positive result in one instance and was, therefore, not used.