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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.”

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