LONDON - In a major breakthrough in the fight against doping, a British rugby league player has become the first athlete to be suspended for using human growth hormone.
Terry Newton admitted taking the substance in a statement released by his attorneys on Friday. The United Kingdom Anti-Doping authority announced a two-year ban on Monday after Newton was fired by his club, Wakefield.
"It's the first time and very significant," WADA director general David Howman said. "It shows the people who say that HGH cannot be detected that it can. The sports people who said it can't be detected are fooling themselves."
UK Anti-Doping chief executive Andy Parkinson said it was a landmark case.
"It is the world-first analytical positive for HGH, a substance that has previously gone undetected because it leaves the system fairly quickly after administration," Parkinson said.
Parkinson said this case, like the tests for the banned blood-boosting hormone EPO, sends out a message that scientists are catching up with cheats.
"There has been a feeling that you can take growth hormone with impunity, but this shows this is no longer the case," Parkinson said. "Now there is a test, so our message to athletes is to think twice about using it.
"In the 1990s, athletes thought they could get away with using EPO and now there is a test for it. And the same is now the case with human growth hormone."
UK Anti-Doping and its drug control centre at King's College London worked closely with the World Anti-Doping Agency throughout the analysis process.
Howman said the HGH test has been around since the 2004 Athens Olympics, but it hasn't been available to every laboratory in the world. The testing kits weren't widely available and the process was only fully introduced at the 2008 Beijing Games.
"There's been a lot of cynicism that it's not going to work and couldn't be detected," Howman said. "Now that we have a case, I hope it delivers a message to others that are using it that it's a risk."
By acting on the liver and other tissues, HGH increases bone growth and plays a key role in muscle and organ growth. That makes it a prohibited substance under WADA's list of prohibited substances.
Professor David Cowan, director of the centre at Kings College London, said that Newton's ban represented a significant step in how science can catch cheats.
"This is an exciting, major breakthrough that has been the result of many years of careful research with WADA," Cowan said. "The detection of substances that are virtually identical to our natural hormones has always represented a challenge.
"This shows how science has closed an important gap and further enhances our ability to deter the cheating athlete to ensure the integrity of sport and promote healthy competition."
The 31-year-old Newton's suspension will end Nov. 23, 2011. He had recently signed a two-year deal with the Wildcats after playing for Leeds, Wigan and Bradford.