Bol doping test results subjective, say scientists
A group of Norwegian scientists have raised doubts about Peter Bol’s doping case, saying the testing for EPO by WADA remains subjective, especially in cases such Bol’s with a “borderline” positive result.
Four professors of biochemistry and molecular biology from Oslo – Jon Nissen-Meyer, Tore Skotland, Erik Boye and Bjarne Osterud – have been long-term critics of EPO testing by WADA laboratories, believing they are too reliant on interpretation of test results.
Australia’s Peter Bol in action at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.Credit:Getty Images
The four all work for, or have worked at, the University of Oslo, the Institute for Cancer Research in Oslo or the University of Tromso.
“I believe subjectivity and interpretation of results is still occurring and [is] a problem in doping cases. There has definitely not been an improvement to create complete objectivity,” Nissen-Meyer told The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
The experts are all likely to be called by Bol’s US lawyer Paul Greene to analyse the results in Bol’s case.
Bol, who has been provisionally banned after testing positive to EPO, has criticised the testing system.
He has requested his B sample be tested using two different methods – the SAR-PAGE method used on his A sample, as well as the IEF method that was previously WADA’s primary method for testing for EPO. It is hoped the combination of the two methods at two different laboratories – one in Australia, one in Cologne – will provide greater accuracy.
The national 800 metres champion has to pay $1200 just to have his B sample tested. The B sample will be opened and sent for testing this week.
Greene has said that Bol’s positive test was borderline as only one of five bands tested returned a minor positive result.
The Norwegian scientists have not seen Bol’s test results, but said in broad terms that deciding what was a positive result and what was “tailing” of natural EPO in the tests was not an objective measure and was open to interpretation.
“There is some ambiguity in some SAR-PAGE test results (the testing method applied for Bol’s first sample), especially if too much of the athlete’s sample is added to the testing gel. Overloading the gel may cause the athlete’s normal EPO band to become broad (spread out) and create so-called tailing,” Nissen-Meyer said.
Bol checks out the competition as he glides through his heat.Credit:AP
“A broad band (with tailing) of normal EPO may be interpreted wrongly that synthetic EPO together with normal EPO has created a broad band.
“There are some genetic variants of normal EPO that might cause it to behave as synthetic EPO in the SAR-PAGE test. WADA says it’s not a problem because they test for these variants; I am not certain that they in fact have full control with all possible genetic variants.
“The amount of normal EPO found in the urine may in any case vary for one and the same person, depending on the physiological condition of the person at the time his urine sample was collected. If the concentration of normal EPO is extremely high, then the problem of overloading the gel might occur.”
The Norwegian scientists were involved in analysing the test results in cases of three athletes who tested positive and were banned: Irish sprinter Stephen Culvert, race walker Erik Tysse and Czech triathlon athlete, Vojtech Somme.
Greene has said there are similarities between Bol’s case and the Culvert and Tysse cases.
The scientists have raised concerns about the subjectivity of EPO testing previously. In 2016 the then chief executive of the World Association of Anti-Doping Scientists – the umbrella organisation for the testing laboratories – Christiane Ayote, wrote a spirited piece in a science magazine defending the laboratories against the criticism that challenged the labs’ credibility.
“The SAR-PAGE and IEF data presented are of excellent quality, the results clear and convincing. The methods, the interpretation of test results were published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature (more than 40 research articles from anti-doping scientists) and so were the criteria for issuing positive findings that are available on WADA’s website,” she wrote in the LabTimes piece.
Sport Integrity Australia declined to comment on the question of the subjectivity of interpreting samples for EPO analysis or of the Bol case.
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