Human growth hormone test nets first positive

Spotlight on professional cycling after rugby player gets two years

The first positive test for human growth hormone - by a rugby league player - could pave the way for similar results in cycling.

The substance is considered an aid to recovery and muscle growth. It has been banned for over 20 years but up until now there has been no test to prove its use by athletes.

Australian cyclist Mark Roland was banned in 2008 for using hGH, but he wasn't picked up by a positive test. That dubious honour fell to Terry Newton, a rugby league player for the UK Wakefield Trinity Wildcats club.

On Friday 19 February, UK Anti-Doping announced that Newton failed an out of competition test for hGH on November 24, 2009. The 31 year-old declined to have his B sample analysed and was hit with a two year ban. He admitted to using the drug, calling it a "grave error of judgment".

In announcing Newton's sanction, UKAD's chief executive, Andy Parkinson said: "This is a landmark in the fight against doping. It is the world-first analytical positive for hGH, a substance that has previously gone undetected because it leaves the system fairly quickly after administration."

Professor David Cowan, the director of King's College London Drug Control Centre, said that the test has taken many years of research to develop.

"The detection of substances that are virtually identical to our natural hormones has always represented a challenge," he said. "This shows how science has closed an important gap and further enhances our ability to deter the cheating athlete to ensure the integrity of sport and promote healthy competition."

The World Anti-Doping General Director, David Howman, had strong words of warning to athletes, reminding them that rules now allow for samples to be stored for up to eight years and re-analysed with new tests as they are developed.

While the possibility of sanction may prove to be a powerful deterrent for the use of hGH, recent scientific studies have also suggested the expensive drug is worthless in increasing athletic performance.

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