Athletes only too happy to be lab rats
Seeking an edge, some bodybuilders and cyclists buy failed experimental drugs.
- After discovering that a promising new drug caused multiple types of cancer in lab animals, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline stopped developing the compound.
But the failed experimental drug, called GW501516, is making a comeback in another arena. Though it's not approved for human use — and likely never will be — it's among dozens of unregulated research chemicals being used by competitive bodybuilders, cyclists and other elite athletes seeking an edge.
These unapproved chemical compounds are sold by companies that purport to offer the substances for use in scientific experiments, which is legal. The buyer must agree the drugs will be given only to laboratory animals or used for in vitro research and will never be ingested by humans.
Yet so many athletes are trying GW501516 that the World Anti-Doping Agency, an independent international body, last month took the rare step of warning "cheats" about side effects, citing "serious toxicities." In the last two weeks alone, five cyclists — four from Costa Rica and one from Russia — were provisionally suspended when tests revealed they had the drug in their systems.
On bodybuilding websites, it's easy to find joking, thinly veiled comments referring to users as "lab rats."
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