£540,000 to beat the cheats

Yannis Pitsiladis, Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the School of Sport and Service Management has been awarded more than £540,000 to research a new cutting-edge test to beat doping cheats.

Professor Yannis Pitsiladis believes his new method could bring an end to athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.

Instead of looking for traces of illegal drugs in urine and blood samples, Professor Pitsiladis, is studying RNA or Ribonucleic acid which together with DNA and proteins are essential for all forms of life. And he has discovered drugs can leave a tell-tale signature in RNA.

The breakthrough test, he said, can identify gene markers in blood if an athlete has taken banned substances – and the markers can still be identified many weeks after the drugs have been taken. The next stage in the research is to identify the markers in saliva and Professor Pitsiladis said he is confident the test can be ready for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

He said: “There’s little point in searching for traces of banned substances – our research focuses on the fingerprint they leave behind.”

The funding has come from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It follows a visit to the university’s Anti-Doping Research laboratory at the university’s Eastbourne campus in March last year by a delegation led Professor Uğur Erdener, IOC Member and Chair of the IOC’s Medical and Scientific Commission. Also attending were Dr Richard Budgett OBE, Olympian and IOC’s Medical and Scientific Director, Dr Lars Engebretsen, the IOC’s Head of Medical Sciences, Dr Paul Dimeo, who researches drug use in sport and anti-doping policy, and anti-doping experts from around the world.

Studies have shown more than a third of athletes have used illegal drugs but less than one percent of those tested have been caught. Cyclist Lance Armstrong, tennis star Maria Sharapova and world 100m sprint champion Justin Gatlin are just some of the high-profile sports people who have been exposed.

Professor Pitsiladis welcomed the funding: “We are in an arms race to beat the cheats and the funding will go a long way to helping us win.”

A spokesperson for the IOC said: “One of the first initiatives of Olympic Agenda 2020 was the creation of a US dollars 20 million fund to protect the clean athletes, 10 million of which was to be used in particular to research new techniques to detect prohibited substances and methods. The IOC had called on governments to match the USD 10 million, and WADA successfully secured pledges of USD 6.45 million, meaning that the WADA-administered fund had a starting budget of almost USD 13 million.

He said Prof Pitsiladis’s research is directly benefiting from that fund: “It is a research into genomics and metabolomics by Professor Yannis Pitsiladis who is an expert member of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission.”

For more of Professor Pitsiladis and his research, go to: https://www.brighton.ac.uk/staff/yannis-pitsiladis.aspx

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