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The University of Southampton

Helping to find drugs cheats in sport

Cheating in sport through misuse of human growth hormones has become more difficult thanks to a test developed by researchers at the University of Southampton.

10 January 2020

The test, Growth-Hormone-2000-Score(GH2000), is the result of more than a decade of multi-disciplinary research from University of Southampton scientists, originally started and led by Professor Richard Holt, Professor of Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Human growth hormone (hGH) is a naturally occurring hormone, the effects of which include an increase in lean body mass and a decrease in fat mass. Its use is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The detection of growth hormones is done through using assays to measure the hormones IGF1 and PIIINP, which are developed over time and in different places. The test can separate growth hormone takers from non-takers.

More recently, new research led by Dankmar Böhning, Professor of Medical Statistics and Director of S3RI at the University of Southampton, has used statistical methodologies to adapt the test for age and gender adjustments, making it even more reliable.

From this test and its application on a large number of elite athletes, decision limits have been developed with the property that levels above the decision limit indicate growth hormone doping.

To minimise any false-positive decision (when an athlete is labelled as growth hormone taker when this is not the case), the decision limits have been constructed based on a large sample of athletes, all free of growth-hormone supplements, in such a way that a false-positive rate of 1 in 10,000 is maintained. In practice, this very low false positive rate requirement means that there are no false-positive decisions.


The statistical methodology has to be solid and sound, as it is possible or likely that sanctioned athletes will legally challenge the verdict. We are really proud to say that since 2014 no adverse findings have occurred despite the fact that the test was used more than 23,000 times. This is clearly a very positive step towards the goal of GH-doping free sports.

Professor Dankmar Böhning - Professor of Medical Statistics and Director of S3RI at the University of Southampton

The improved test is only one of two tests to measure GH misuse approved by WADA and is used in all major sporting events that fall under the governance of the International Athletics Association from the Olympics to the World Athletics Championships.

The test has been used thousands of times. In 2018 it was used at 8755 sporting occasions world-wide.

Our expertise in the area of medical statistics of elite sports was also been put on the world stage in 2019, when Dankmar was included in a group of 10 experts to appear at the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) in support of Caster Semenya.

The 2016 Olympic 800m gold medal winner was appealing an IAAF ruling that would see her forced to lower her natural testosterone levels. 

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