Leveling the Playing Field
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How did a 40-year-old drug show up in the urine of an Olympic contender
"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."