Ashenden hails developments in test for autologous blood transfusions
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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ashenden hails developments in test for autologous blood transfusions

by Shane Stokes at 2:33 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
Believes plasticizer test is valid

Michael AshendenRespected anti-doping scientist Michael Ashenden has said that he is encouraged by reports that a new test to detect blood transfusions is being used. Describing the concept as ‘very promising,’ he said that he believed the presence of plasticizers in urine was ‘reliable analytical evidence’ of autologous transfusions.

Ashenden was commenting after much recent publicity about tests looking for traces of specific plasticizers used in the IV bags containing extracted blood.

The subject has become a hot topic after reports that Tour de France champion Alberto Contador may have had high levels of the substances in his blood around the same time he tested positive for Clebuterol.

Ashenden declined to comment on the particular case involving the Spaniard. However he spoke in general terms about the difficulty in testing for that form of doping, and how the new method might be a game-changer.

“Autologous transfusions confront antidoping authorities with a unique problem, namely that it is the only form of doping relying on a substance that is truly identical to the doper's system,” he explained to VeloNation today. “It has also become apparent that the disturbance in blood parameters following transfusion is less than what we had expected, and proving difficult to detect via the blood passport.

“Recently several research groups independently contemplated whether the presence of plasticizers that leach into blood when it is stored could be used to detect when an athlete had transfused. The concept seems very promising, and there is an abundant scientific literature describing both the migration of plasticizers from the bags into blood as well as their excretion in urine.

“Whilst the research groups have different ideas on how best to detect the plasticizers, there is now an international-level collaboration working on this topic.”

Inevitably, as is the case with all new tests, questions have been raised as to how reliable the analyses will be. It has been pointed out that the test has not been officially ratified, yet WADA director general David Howman recently said that he considered data from the tests could be used, along with other information, in prosecuting a case at tribunal.

Ashenden also believes the test is an accurate one, and agrees that it could be used as supporting evidence at this point in time. “I am not going to comment on when or if a test will be validated by the WADA, nor on specific cases,” he said. “However I believe that the presence of plasticizers in urine is reliable analytical evidence of a transfusion. I also believe that this evidence could be submitted to a hearing panel - it would be up to the hearing panel to weigh that evidence - whether or not the test is eventually approved.”

Learning from Floyd, understanding riders' temptations:

A member of the UCI’s biological passport committee and one of the world’s most experienced anti-doping researchers, Ashenden recently participated in the New Pathways for Pro Cycling conference. It was held immediately prior to the world road race championships in Geelong, Australia. At the conference, he spoke on the topic of anti-doping and also had a chance to both hear Floyd Landis’s contributions to the conference and also to talk to him directly.

He was quoted afterwards in media reports as saying that he learned more talking to Landis for two days than he did after many years in the job. Ashenden clarifies those words, saying that there is a degree of inaccuracy in the phrasing of the quote, but that the general sentiment is correct.

“First, before it takes on a life of its own, I'll correct the record to say that I never used those words,” he stated. “But I hasten to add I have learned an enormous amount from Floyd. The most obvious is the insight he has provided into what, how and when he doped - I've said previously that this 'missing piece of the jigsaw' has helped the antidoping community.

“But equally compelling for me was to witness the personal toll it has taken on Floyd - the doping as a pro rider, the lying during the hearings, and most recently his public confession. However I am convinced that history will eventually show that Floyd Landis was at the epicentre of a fundamental shift that will continue to echo for decades - 'Ben Johnsonesque' is not overstating the situation.

“Of course he could not have known that when he made a decision to confess, which is all the more reason for me to applaud his courage in coming forward.”

Ashenden told VeloNation that attending the Deakin University event was something which gave him an insight that he might otherwise not have gained. He now feels he has a better insight into why professional cyclists and others make decisions that go against the rules of sport. As a result, he has a clearer understanding of the mindset of those he is helping to police.

“I found the conference particularly enlightening. It’s always challenging - but ultimately beneficial - to be exposed to new views and paradigms,” he explained. “I can only speak for myself, but after reading Martin Hardie's report I find myself with a renewed appreciation for what the pro riders are confronted with. It does not excuse doping, but it puts a human face on the awful choice the riders must make. As a scientist, I feel an obligation to find a solution - not so much to catch cheats but to conceive of a release valve so that riders don't have to make that choice.”

He is clear on one thing – it may be time to look at having truly independent bodies testing, assessing and ultimately judging the anti-doping area of sport.

“One of the most confronting, but widely agreed upon proposals, was the need to separate UCI's role as both 'police' and 'promoters' of the sport,” he stated. “It makes common sense to me - for example we don't let the IOC police and promote its sport - so it will be interesting to see how that seed evolves.”


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