By Robert Woodward
LONDON (Reuters) - A preliminary test for human growth hormone (HGH) is ready for the Athens Olympics, British researcher Claire Hartley said on Wednesday.

Anti-doping experts had warned drug cheats that they were confident a test for HGH, believed to be widely used in top class sport, would be ready in time for the August 13-29 Games but Hartley's statement was the first confirmation.

Hartley, from the University of Southampton, told Reuters a laboratory in Munich had devised a blood test that could verify the presence of HGH up to 36 hours after it was administered.

"The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is saying this test is ready for Athens," she said.

A blood test devised by her university which could detect HGH use up to 84 days after administration would "not necessarily be used" in Athens, she said.

However, it would be finalized within six months and samples taken in Athens and frozen could be retroactively tested.

HGH, which also occurs naturally in the body, is misused by competitors to stimulate muscle and tissue growth. Adverse effects include heart disease, high levels of fat, and disfigurement.


A spokesman for WADA, the world anti-doping agency which approves new tests, declined to comment on whether an HGH test would definitely be used in Athens.

"We are looking to finalize an HGH test," a spokesman said from Montreal. "We are confident it will be in place for Athens and even if it is not, it could be used retrospectively."

Hartley, project manager for the HGH 2004 project at her university, said Southampton researchers were finalizing a viable reference range for the test, based on the amount of HGH in the bloodstream in a "normal" athlete

The IOC had hoped to have a reliable HGH test in place by the 2000 Games in Sydney.
When this test proved elusive, funding was switched to the successful search for a blood test for EPO (erythropoietin), a blood-boosting substance used by long-distance athletes to increase endurance.

Olympic sprint champion Marion Jones, who denies any illegal drug use, has been accused by her ex-husband of using HGH.

Last year scientists tested frozen blood samples from the Paris world athletics championships for the newly-discovered anabolic steroid THG (tetrahydrogestrinone), which is at the center of a doping scandal tearing apart American athletics.