Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Methylhexaneamine: why WADA needs to clarify its Prohibited List

Jamaican 400-metre runner Dominique Blake was recently banned for six years. The Jamaica Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel handed down the penalty after Blake tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine at last year's Olympic trials. It was her second offence.

Methylhexaneamine is classified as a stimulant under Section S6 of the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) Prohibited List of banned substances. The likely source of the substance in Dominique's system is a supplement she was taking called Nuerocore. An examination of the Nuerocore label showed one of the ingredients as 'geranium extract (as Geranium robertianum, aerial parts)'. Methylhexaneamine is a component of the geranium extract.

As I explained in a 2009 Gleaner article, methylhexanamine (more properly called 4-methyl-2-hexanamine) is a natural compound found in tiny amounts in the oil from the leaves and stalk of the geranium plant. The oil is clear to light green in colour and has a minty-flowery smell. It is used mainly in the food and perfume industries. Methylhexanamine is the same substance for which Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson, Lansford Spence, Allodin Fothergill and Sheri-Ann Brooks returned positive tests in 2009.

Back then, methylhexaneamine was not on the WADA Prohibited List of banned substances. It was put on the following year. Why were the athletes (except for Sherry-Ann Brooks) penalised, then? This was because WADA's 2009 List, while not naming methylhexaneamine specifically, included it under a broad category with 'tuaminoheptane and other substances with a similar chemical structure or similar biological effect(s)'.

I disagreed then and I disagree now with lumping compounds together under 'similar chemical structure'. This is because, without rigorous scientific analysis, one cannot equate similar biological effect with similar chemical structure. It is the similarity in biological effect which is important. Indeed, there are about 80 other compounds, as yet unnamed on the WADA List, which are similar in structure to tuaminoheptane and methylhexaneamine. They can all form the basis of career-ending decisions by the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) and WADA, but are yet unnamed.

The main 2012 WADA List (The 2012 Prohibited List International Standard), which Dominique said she used to check her supplement, does not list 'geranium extract (as Geranium robertianum, aerial parts)' as a banned substance. This was part of Dominique's defence. However, as she found out, there is another 2012 WADA List called the 'Summary of Major Modifications and Explanatory Notes'. Rather than 'summarising', this List provided an additional six names for methylhexaneamine.

Within this 'Summary' listing, methylhexaneamine is described as 'geranamine, geranium root extract, or geranium oil, etc'. These names are close enough to those on her Nuerocore label, JADCO concluded, for Ms Blake to have been duly warned. So if an athlete was unaware that there is a supplementary List that must be checked as well, please be informed now.
And what about the trade names and the many other names (such as dimethylpentylamine, 4-methyl-2-hexanamine, and Forthan) under which methylhexaneamine is sold in the many supplements out there? The WADA List does not cover most of them, and athletes without scientific support can feel like they are in a loaded minefield, where even the best due diligence can come up short.

No scientific data

The situation is made more complicated by the absence of any scientific data which support the view of any performance-enhancing properties of methylhexaneamine. Indeed, the only study that I am aware of that investigated this (in searching more than 100 years of scientific literature) is a 2011 paper by Richard Bloomer et. al. in the Journal of Caffeine Research. The study showed that methylhexaneamine had no effect at all on athletic performance. Why is methylhexaneamine on the list then? Only WADA can say.

While WADA has an enormous job to do to weed out those who cheat by deliberately using performance-enhancing substances - and, in that regard, it must be supported - in many ways the present system is a minefield that is difficult to navigate, even for the most diligent athlete. The penalty for the athlete's transgression is so great that the following measures must be introduced sooner rather than later:

• WADA must present hard scientific facts on the banned substances in every single case to support sanctions. The scientific studies to date do not show any evidence that methylhexaneamine enhances athletic performance, yet the substance carries a severe penalty.

• The WADA List must be updated constantly to reflect all the scientific names, common and trade names of the banned substances therein. About half of the alternative names of methylhexaneamine are not on the WADA Lists, and;

• Only one List per year is necessary. If a summary List has to be used, it should not contain additional information, as this just makes things more difficult for the athletes. For example, the summary list for methylhexaneamine contained six different names other than those on the main List. An athlete could miss these if he or she checked the main List only. In Dominique's case, this oversight contributed to her six-year ban.

In all of this, our athletes need scientific support, replete with the appropriate education and training to navigate this obstacle course. The most recent case of Veronica Campbell-Brown returning a positive test for the banned diuretic Lasix serves to emphasise this. We have to act now! We can't afford for our athletes to make mistakes that can taint and ruin promising careers.

Peter L. Ruddock, PhD, is a medicinal chemist and served as expert witness for the defence team of Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson, Lansford Spence, and Allodin Fothergill (v JADCO) in 2009, and for the legal defence team of Dominique Blake in Blake v JADCO in 2013.


This article was originally published by the Jamaica Gleaner here


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