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Spring 2004
Leveling the Playing Field
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How did a 40-year-old drug show up in the urine of an Olympic contender in 2002?

"That confirmed our long-term suspicions," says Catlin. "There are people out there who are searching, finding and making such things." Following his discovery, Catlin applied for and received an unrestricted grant from the USADA to explore the existence of other rogue drugs.

The timing proved fortuitous. Shortly after the grant-funded equipment and personnel were in place, a mysterious overnight package arrived at USADA. It contained a used syringe sent by an anonymous high-profile track-and-field coach. The coach named athletes he believed were using an undetectable steroid. USADA sent a syringe rinse to the UCLA Olympic Lab, where Catlin and a team of seven chemists engaged in a complex process, working backwards to discern the compound's structure, then producing the compound from scratch to confirm their suspicions. The result was a new drug, related to known steroids but altered to avoid detection. Catlin named the drug tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, and then created a test to detect it.

"THG is a new chemical entity never documented before, probably synthesized by clandestine chemists who didn't just comb old literature for abandoned pharmaceuticals but sat down to design a new molecule," Catlin and former associate director (and now consultant) Caroline K. Hatton Ph.D. '85 wrote in a December 2003 issue of UCLA Today. "The finding suggests levels of depth and organization always suspected but never uncovered before. THG shows that cheaters are willing to go to unprecedented extremes."

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