Photo: John Kopchick, Ph.D., Goll-Ohio Professor of
Molecular and Cellular Biology, (left) works with Nick Okada, Ph.D.,
and Maria Beigel, a 2007 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow, at
Kopchick’s lab at the Edison Biotechnology Institute.
World Anti-Doping Agency grant fuels Kopchick’s search for a human
growth hormone marker
by Susie Shutts
Aug. 8, 2007
It’s nearly impossible to listen to
the news without hearing about the latest doping scandals in
professional sports. While the use of performance-enhancing drugs
can taint an athlete’s victory, or be the source of their demise —
58 riders were implicated on the eve of last year’s Tour de France —
their use can also lead to serious health problems.
Since 2003, eight cyclists have died from heart attacks that are
suspected to have been caused by performance-enhancing drugs.
The sheer number of these drugs
makes testing and detection a challenge.
Earlier this year, John Kopchick,
Ph.D., Goll-Ohio Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology,
and J.O. Jorgensen, M.D., began research that aims to detect human
growth hormone — which builds muscle and reduces fat — allegedly
used as an athletic doping agent. The World Anti-Doping Agency
granted $482,000 to Kopchick and Jorgensen for a three-year study.
By analyzing the serum proteins
from samples exposed to the hormone, the two are searching for a
clinical marker of human growth hormone action. “The research may
result in a more accurate, sensitive, reliable test” to detect
growth hormone doping, Kopchick says.
Samples from human subjects exposed
to growth hormone or exercise, as well as patients with growth
hormone disorders, are collected by Jorgensen, of Aarhus University
Hospital in Denmark, and delivered to Kopchick’s lab at Ohio
University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute. Jorgensen, a friend and
colleague of Kopchick for 10 years, and Kopchick are world renowned
experts in the study of human growth hormone.
According to Jorgensen, simply
measuring growth hormone in the blood is inconclusive because
exogenous, misused growth hormone is identical to that produced by
the pituitary gland, and says Kophick, the hormone is only
detectable for about 15 minutes in the body.
“Exercise in and of itself will
release growth hormone,” Kopchick says. “You have to be sure that
any test developed will detect levels that are up and beyond that
induced by normal exercise.”
In addition to violating the ethos
of sports, growth hormone doping can be physically harmful.
Acromegaly, a disease characterized by excess growth hormone
production from a pituitary tumor, is linked to diabetes, heart
disease and excess morbidity and mortality in these patients.
“A more general concern, which we
believe everybody shares, is that illicit use of any kind of
compound may spread from elite athletes to young people and
‘recreational athletes’ working out at the gym around the corner,”
Jorgensen states. “The consequences of that could be very serious.”