Thursday, January 20, 2011

Assistance and Armstrong

Science of Sports wrote about HemAssist and Armstrong. HemAssist refers to Diaspirin Cross-Linked Hemoglobin, a drug that was manufactured by an American pharmaceutical company in the late 90ies and was intended for use only in clinical trial settings, not as illegal assistance in endurance sports - or so they say anyway.

The SoS blog post is based on The Case Against Lance Armstrong in SI Vault:
"A few years earlier, according to a source familiar with the government's investigation of Armstrong, the Texan became interested in Baxter Healthcare Corp., a company based in Deerfield, Ill., that focuses in part on developing drugs to treat hemophilia. According to that source, the FDA has information that Armstrong gained access to a Baxter-made drug in clinical trial in the U.S. and Europe in the late 1990s. According to public records, a study on a drug called Diaspirin Cross-Linked Hemoglobin (DCLHb) began in early 1997 and ended in 1998. Baxter developed the drug, whose trade name is HemAssist, for use in cases of extreme blood loss, such as by shock and trauma victims; in animal studies it was shown to boost the blood's oxygen-carrying capacity without the thickening caused by EPO. The human trials were ended, however, after a number of patients died—though not necessarily from the drug's effects; some of the trauma victims were likely to have died anyway.
Armstrong's lawyers say that he denies ever having taken HemAssist, and they claim it was impossible for him to have had access to the drug after the clinical trials ended and Baxter abandoned development in September 1998. Still, stockpiles of the drug may have remained, says Dr. Robert Przybelski, an associate professor at Wisconsin who was the director of hemoglobin therapeutics at Baxter in the late '90s, although he adds that he doesn't know of any missing quantities. What would a cyclist want with the drug? "If somebody was going to design something better than EPO, this would be the ideal product," says Przybelski. DCLHb would certainly give the endurance-starved cyclist a push in the Pyrenees. "[Hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers] do everything they want EPO to do without the potential side effects of increased blood viscosity and strokes," says Przybelski. "And it doesn't last long [in the body], 12 to 24 hours, which is ideal for an event.""
Just a couple of points to keep in mind regarding assistance:
  • It's highly unlikely for anyone to be able to finish - let alone win - a race like Tour de France without any pharmaceutical assistance. That's what a finisher of the event told me. This is not a secret really, so let's not pretend we don't know that almost every elite competitor today is using some drugs. The money wasted on chasing old doping cases could be used for something more constructive. 
  • Lance has done a fairly good job in assisting cancer victims in many ways over the years (for example, check out the video below). The end doesn't justify the means, but that's pretty cool nevertheless.

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